Encourage reading by example

  • Patricia Schonstein
My parents read all the time. I remember my father in his armchair and my mother at the dining room table, each absorbed in a book at the end of their working day.

They did not belong to the library, but got their books from book exchanges – shops where you’d pay something like a shilling for a second-hand book that you could either keep or swap for another when you’d read it.

My father read novels, biography, politics, and comparative religion. My mother enjoyed historical romances. They both read the classics and books by authors like Ernest Hemingway, Leon Uris, John Steinbeck, Betty Smith, Carlo Levi, and Carson McCullers.

There was a small selection of classics at home that I began reading from a young age. Through these books I met formidable personages who, between them, led amazing lives, overcame calamity, solved mystery, fell in love, triumphed over all manner of travails, and shared their deepest thoughts. It was through Anne Frank’s diary that my father managed to tell me about the Holocaust, because he found no words to do so himself.

I became a voracious reader because of my parent’s example. They never told me to read. It was just something one did. My own children had this example of parental reading too. We read to them each evening when they were little.

School played its part. We had a full library at school, with trained librarians, and my children also had this privilege.

I cannot imagine life without reading. I think I’d be a husk of a person without access to the stories presented in novels, the lives in biographies, the worlds in non-fictions. I’d rather live on bread and water, than forsake what literature feeds me. I would certainly not have become a published author had I not read.

So I believe every effort should be made to encourage children to read for pleasure. In these modern times, one hears constantly that children won’t read. Those growing up in households where there is no example of adults reading for pleasure have no module to follow.

Those who attend schools with no libraries are also severely disadvantaged. Those of us who know the importance of books should go all-out to encourage this fine pastime in our own children. And we should consider supporting projects such as Shine Literacy and FunDza, which help children overcome all the stumbling blocks preventing them from accessing stories.

The important thing is the story. Schools should be mandated to encourage reading. Parents should reward it. Not encouraging our children to read and to grow through literature deprives them of so much. Society as a whole is deprived when it doesn’t read. Reading allows for reflection and introspection. Above all, it stimulates imagination and creativity. It’s the best banquet.

Perhaps we should re-think the printed book for the moment, and offer young people stories through audio books, and Kindles, even films that are based on novels. Whatever we do, we must get young people reading.

Example is a great way to start. Let them see you reading!

  • Poet and author of both adult and children’s books, Patricia Schonstein will be participating in the Cape Town Jewish Literary Festival in three sessions. She will be giving a novel writing masterclass, participating in a discussion on bringing fictional characters to life, and reading and discussing poetry.


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