I once sat on a panel of children's literature book enthusiasts at a conference. One of the questions that came from the audience, and it was clearly facetious, was "why is it so important that kids read anyway?"
It was an interesting question, and one that forced those of us on the panel to articulate a concept that seemed so obvious to us, yet one we'd never put into words. "Why," the audience member continued, "is it not good enough that kids just watch TV or movies? They get stories in those mediums too."
My pat answer was to rattle off yet another quote. "I've never met a bigot who was, as a child, a reader." (author unknown)
The other panel members had more thorough answers. First of all we established the fact that we use and challenge a different part of our brain while reading as opposed to viewing TV or movies. Very important. Then we reiterated that it is only through reading that we learn what it feels like to live in someone else's skin, in their circumstances. Through reading we develop empathy and understanding. The more widely we read, the greater understanding we gain of the world outside of our own little lives. We learn what it feels like to be the opposite sex, to live in a different country, a different era, a different political system, with a different set of values. In short, we learn tolerance. And bigots, of course, are anything but tolerant.
In my last post Leslie named the book that turned her onto a reader as a young girl. The Girl of the Limberlost. The book I most vividly remember as a young girl was Harriet the Spy.
What was it for you?
photo credit: http://lowe.lib.wv.us/read01.jpg