Do young readers in your school stick to a few popular series and show reluctance in exploring new genres? Check out Dr. Shailaja Menon’s terrific suggestions on how to inspire children to read across genres.
Q. How can we encourage children to read across genres without being too pushy?
A. When they start reading independently, many children tend to “hook” onto a particular genre, or style/type of book. Even more specifically, they may hook onto a single author or a very small set of authors. For example, many urban, middle-class young readers can be spied these days hanging onto Geronimo Stilton books.
Our first aim, as educators and as parents, is to invite children into the world of reading. Therefore, if you have students or children who are hooked onto one kind of book/author, the first thing to do is to celebrate the fact that you have a reader in the classroom/family!
However, if literature is food for thought, then, then we must work towards providing a balanced diet. It is fine if your child has a packet of potato chips once in a while. But, if you notice that potato chips is all she eats, you would want to work towards (a) replacing junk food with good food as a habit; and (b) encouraging your child to eat a wide variety of good foods. Likewise, with reading, we have to work towards building both discerning reading habits and wide reading habits in our children.
There is no better way to do this, than through modeling. If you are able to demonstrate to children that you, yourself, read a wide variety of books and texts for different purposes, then it is likely that children will pick up on this from you. Consider – do you share your own reading habits with children in your classroom/home? Do you discuss with them an interesting news item that you have read in the paper? Do you share a favorite poem that you read when you’re feeling sad? Do you share the range of authors you read, and why? Remember – you cannot make children love literature, books and texts, if you yourself are not able to model this for them.
In addition to modeling, you need to “scaffold” or hand-hold children as they acquire the habit to read across genres. You need to ensure that you bring in a wide variety of books for children to examine and explore; and you should also ensure that you play a skillful role in introducing those books to children. One way to do this is by starting with children’s authentic questions about different aspects of life around them. Children are always brimming with interesting questions.
I noticed recently that my 9 year old daughter was asking me questions like, “Who invented maths? How did the world begin? How did we all get here? What did people look like before they looked like people? How did mountains come to be? Why do you have to dig to find things from the past, why are they not just lying around?” I noticed a theme here – an interest in the origin of things, people, places. So, I brought in a variety of books for her – origin myths from around the world; books on early people; on geology and archeology; on evolution; on history; and so on. Some of these were mythological fiction. Others were simple readers. Still others were children’s encyclopedias. Had I simply brought these in and left them lying around, the odds are that she would have thought that they were far too challenging and/or boring for her to handle, and might have reverted to her favorite Enid Blytons. Instead, we spent time discussing the questions of significance to her. I helped her to look through the books and decide which ones seemed to answer some of her questions. I spent regular time reading small portions of these books aloud to her, and helping her deal with the difficult vocabulary and syntax, but most importantly – to help her see the relevance of these books to answering her own questions! After a fair amount of hand-holding and modeling, she is now off exploring some of these books on her own.
As a teacher or a librarian, you might consider setting aside regular time where students advertise books they’ve read to each other. This might spark off an interest in another student who might otherwise not have considered reading a book of that genre. You might consider organizing research projects that would necessarily require that students to dip into different genres of texts. You might consider taking up systematic genre study in your class/library, where you spend a sustained period of time exploring different genres with the students.
Having said all this, it is also important to give students space to have a decided preference for one genre over another. Some children will take more naturally to poetry than to prose. Others might favor fantasy stories over all others. Still others may prefer non-fiction. Give sufficient opportunities and sufficient space for children to grow.
Have questions related to reading or literacy that you haven’t yet found the answers to? Send in your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and have Dr Shailaja Menon respond to it.
Dr. Shailaja Menon currently works as faculty in the area of Language and Literacy, School of Education, Azim Premji University. She has her Ph.D. in language, literacy and culture from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and degrees in human development and psychology from MSU, Baroda, and Delhi University, respectively.
Shailaja has worked in various educational settings in the US and in India. She has an abiding interest in imparting a love for language, literature and literacy to children, teachers and teacher educators and engages in a variety of initiatives that help promote these.