The Rights of the Reader

The Rights of the Reader; Daniel Pennac, illustrated by Quentin Blake
Summer is here and we do encourage summer reading with numerous incentives and programmes. It is important for children (of all ages) to 'keep their reading up' outside of school time. This is the time when kids develop their own taste in books and can be free to read books of their own choosing. And this is the single most important factor in young people developing a lifelong reading habit.
But how do we, as the 'gatekeepers' of kids reading, encourage them properly without running the risk of thrusting pressure and our own ideas on them? Do that and you'll run the risk of pushing them away from reading, and there are already so many distractions for the young reader to contend with that can tempt them elsewhere.
Published by Walker Books; 9781406300918
In 1992, French writer Daniel Pennac originally published this little gem of a book; The Rights of the Reader. I highly recommend it. It was conceived out of his experiences teaching students in "challenging" schools, where perhaps reading was not high on the agenda. Carefully considering the factors that he deemed responsible for discouraging reading in young people, he came up with an intrinsic, powerful thought. Readers (of any age) have rights.
They have the right to read anything they choose, any time, anywhere, however they wish. And, quiet interestingly, they have the right NOT to read. Have you ever started a book and become disenchanted with it? Turns out you don't have to finish it...why annoy yourself with something you don't enjoy when you could be reading something that carries you away to a place of freedom and entertainment? When encouraging reading in children and young adults, the worst thing that can happen to be forced to finish a book you don't like.
And (this is my favourite), the reader has the right to read a book over and over again. So many times I have been faced with parents concerned that their child keeps reading the same book. My question is, "do they enjoy it?" That's when they look at me as if I have six heads and say, "well, they must...they keep reading it." The most central thing to encouraging reading is enjoyment. Let them read the same thing over and over. Let them ask you to read the same book over and over to them. Something very special is happening there on levels you may not even consider. It's not about 'moving forward'. It's not about 'developing skills'. Those things will happen. It's about acquiring an emotional attachment, a belief that they have the right to choose and that those choices will be honoured and valued; and a sense of autonomy and individuation. All you, as a parent, guardian or teacher has to do is provide them with books...any books they want.
And one more thing. children need to see you reading. They need to know that you value it and will take the time out of your increasingly busy schedule to stop everything and read...for fun.
So, this summer and forever after, please let the children read.


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