When you look back on your childhood, what do you remember most?
Is it that maths lesson you went to when you were seven, when you were learning about shapes and dozing off on the desk?
Or is it the stories? The dreams? The time spent glued to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone or The Borrowers; the times when the minutes completely disappeared; the times under the covers in the middle of the night, holding a book and torch, listening out for tell-tale creaks of floorboards when a parent was about to come in and confiscate a story?
To children, reading is one of the best experiences in the world. It’s a hobby so quickly overlooked by a lot of people, people who just don’t have the time to sit with their head in a book, or just don’t have the patience for a full-length novel. Some people, especially people who don’t read, can only wonder at what’s so interesting about words printed on a page. “How can you read this?” they might ask, so reminiscent of Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, “There’s no pictures!” (Naturally, I find myself slightly alarmed at myself for quoting Gaston of all people…nooo ooone quotes like Gaston…)
The point is, many children love reading. It’s in the early years of someone’s life that they realise they’re a bookworm, in that moment when they’re scolded by their parents for “having that torch on at 11PM again” and reading instead of sleeping. People who read as children are more likely to continue reading into adulthood, and of course, they’re more likely to have a vivid imagination inspired by Buckbeak the Hippogriff and the Wild Things.
My younger sister is constantly chattering on to me about books, talking about her favourite part in The BFG or bombarding me with questions about my favourite childhood book. For a younger sibling, all of this is new to her: The Twits and Matilda and The Gruffalo. She’s never read them before, and naturally, she immediately wants to share how brilliant these books are, these stories, these entire worlds captured in print. It’s new, it’s exciting. She cares more about the life of Matilda than her maths homework, because she’s a child. Why shouldn’t she have an imagination?
Children’s fiction is so important in the forming of a person, and the development of a child. If life was all about academics and work, how boring would it be? Children, whether they read or not, have the most admirable imaginations in today’s age. They could imagine anything, from a dragon to a Pegasus, from a high fantasy world with princes and queens to a fairyland with goblins and orcs. We should be encouraging these vivid imaginations, and introducing children to the wonderful world of books as something to love and enjoy, rather than a chore they will inevitably have to face once they reach secondary school. Academic study is, of course, important, but should it take over a child’s life? What is more important to a seven year old girl: their interests and imagination, or their skills at counting on a ruler?
The repeated patterns of many children’s books, especially the familiar rhythms of Julia Donaldson’s catalogue of fiction, help children to understand language and rhyme. Not only are they reading books filled with explosive worlds of colour and art, but they’re reading poetry at the same time. This introduction to poetry and language is not only a useful tool in improving their written and spoken speech, but also helps them to widen their range of vocabulary, and hones their skills to give them a wider appreciation of literacy.
Fiction for children is vital to their understanding of the world they live in. One only has to read a book such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to understand the strange outlook a child might have on an adult’s world, and this perspective will serve as an important influence on how they live the rest of their lives. Children’s fiction helps these children form and grow as people, as they begin to gather a greater understanding of the issues of the real world, all disguised in moral tales and stories of patch-worked elephants. Morals and social skills are passed down onto children through stories. Bartholomew Bear teaches children to eat their dinner; Daisy the Duck teaches children not to be afraid; Meg and Mog teaches children how to care about friends and explore the world.
Children’s fiction is possibly one of the most important things in their worlds today. It can be used to teach, influence and motivate, but most importantly of all, it can inspire them. Children’s fiction and children’s reading in general is a wonderful, beautiful thing, and it should definitely be more encouraged than it is.