Get Children to Read - by Making Reading Fun Too Many Parents, Teachers, Publishers Seem to Forget That Reading Doesn't Have to Be Solemn and Formal

Article excerpt

'Every eight-year-old must be able to read," President Clinton proclaimed in his State of the Union message. Perhaps I can contribute to his education "crusade" by emphasizing that we should make reading fun, something not everyone believes.

For five decades as a professor of literature I've been teaching students how to read for fun. My problem has not been so much with students as with those who believe that students are not supposed to enjoy any sort of serious reading.

Many parents worry that their children will never start reading. I stopped urging mine to read when I realized the more I pressed, the more they resisted. My son says he began reading seriously only after I established a track record of suggesting things that actually pleased him. His younger sister got caught up in his fun. It helped to remember my own introduction to books. When I was eight or so, my father took me to the public library. Because we did not speak English at home, he asked the librarian for advice. The books she recommended enchanted me, and I kept returning. On my own, I found myself reading any piece of paper with words on it. I felt that any reading my children enjoyed would be better than none. Paul, now a newspaper editor, reminds me that I never told him that any particular book or type of reading - "Huckleberry Finn," "Gulliver's Travels," Tarzan, Tom Swift, Classic Comics, the Bible - was good or bad for him. He thinks if I had, I might have turned him off. Parents and teachers, and sometimes publishers themselves, keep forgetting that fun is exactly what reading ideally produces. Defoe, Austen, Dickens, Twain - with their powerful narratives and fascinating characters - used to provide the pleasures and, inevitably, the learning, that film or television, at their best, do today. Having fun with Shakespeare Too many continue to believe that education must be solemn, formal, even uncomfortable. No pain, no gain. I once prepared an anthology for college students containing James Thurber's spoof, "The Macbeth Murder Mystery." "Students are not supposed to have fun with Shakespeare," huffed a teacher-consultant to the publisher. …

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