The young people of South Africa desperately need books. They need books in order to make friends with the whole idea of books. They need picture books, chapter books, books in their mother tongue, books for relaxation, books to feed their imagination, books for research. But the books themselves are not enough.
Books have often been called “bridges”. They form a bridge between the author and the reader. They build bridges between the different people who read them. They provide bridges on which knowledge can travel. Every young reader needs to be shown how to build those bridges. When you read aloud with children, you start the whole bridge-building process.
To feel connected to books, children also need to handle books. They need to physically connect with books as objects. You know how very young children examine an object. They look at it, stroke it, sniff it, chew at it sometimes. A book is a “thing” just as much as a spoon or a blanket or a favourite teddy bear. And it’s important that books are everyday objects in your home or at your club.
Human beings use their five senses to assess the world around them. In the early years, a book doesn’t only need to be read to children, it also needs to be handled by them so that it is recognised as a friendly item. Something that can be touched, stroked, hugged, loved.
Children need to own what a book offers. This means letting what is inside the book transfer itself to you. This includes the look of the pictures, the sound of the words, the chance to let your mind wander off, to imagine new ideas, new people, new places, the laughter and the amazement. In other words, they need to be allowed to make the book theirs – to be allowed to let the book live inside them long after they have read the last page and closed it.
* The above article is adapted from Hooked on Books by Jay Heale, published by Metz Press.