A Thought On Literacy

Jet-3-high-res-682x1024Russell Blake is a prolific bestselling author of twenty-five books including the novels JET, JET II – Betrayal, JET III – Vengeance, JET IV – Reckoning, JET V – Legacy, JET VI – Justice, Upon A Pale Horse, BLACK, BLACK Is Back, and BLACK Is The New Black, and I regularly visit his blog to learn about writing and productivity. He’s got a lot to teach writers.

His post this week reminded me of school and it made me think of the books forced on me. I’ll be honest, I probably only remember one or two. Come on, this is like a trillion years ago. The point is, I’ve always been flexible when it came to the type of books I read, and this flexibility included literary fiction, but even I suffered through a book or two that pushed the limits of what I could tolerate.

My flexibility remains unchanged today, though I do have my preferences, but Russell made me wonder what would happen if our kids could choose their own books at school. Would it create more readers? This is important. There are kids out there, believe it or not, who don’t like reading. Unbelievable, I know, right?! So what is so wrong with introducing them to popular fiction–at school level?

Russell puts it succinctly:

“If you want to create readers, which is the first step to creating writers, you have to give them something that grabs them – that’s relevant, interesting, and lurid enough to capture the imagination of a 16 or 17 year old boy. Steinbeck ain’t gonna cut it. The immediate response (mine would have been at that age) will likely be, “great, another boring book about shit I don’t care about, written by a guy who was dead before I was born. Groan.”

Consider this:

“Literacy is important to society because the written word is the primary way knowledge is passed from generation to generation, in the sciences, in the humanities, in virtually every way. A nation of sheep that has no interest nor ability in reading is a nation in decline. Literacy matters. But to convince people that literacy is important it has to be entertaining or they’ll tune out. People that don’t read, don’t read because they never learned the pleasure of reading, and view it as something unpleasant. That’s my theory, anyway.”

I agree with him. Allow our kids to read popular fiction. Use it like a gateway drug (Russell’s own words) to hook them on reading. You only need that one small seed. My kids are still very young and my eldest, who is 6-years-old, can read simple sentences and is getting better at it fast and she seems to like reading, so far. I remember a few months ago when she became frustrated with a word, I told her reading is like watching a movie in your head. She seemed to like that idea, but then, I said movie, and she loves her Disney animations (which I try to limit, but that’s another story for another time).

Yes, at her age they still use picture books with few words, but I wanted to sow the seed of promise. I don’t have an elitist view on what is proper literature. Reading is reading, and if we can get our kids to read and to love doing it, what does it matter if its popular fiction? Popular fiction won’t rot their eyes or make them go blind or stunt their growth.

As Russell puts it, use it as a gateway. And if you think about it, a gateway it truly is. A gateway that will take them to new and strange worlds where they’ll find exciting adventures. They’ll experience love and hope and sometimes loss. And you never know, they might even discover a destiny unrevealed as yet by following the breadcrumbs of ideas you’ll only find in books. But first, they need to discover the pleasure of reading. The rest will take care of itself.

You can read the full article here: A Thought On Literacy.

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