Books · Family · Parenting

‘Kids hate reading’ and other stories.

If I had a pound for every time I heard someone say ‘kids these days hate reading’ or ‘****’s too young/old for books’, I may not be a millionaire but I’d certainly have some extra pocket-money.

They’re wrong, obviously, but nothing I do or say seems to be able to convince them otherwise. Probably because I usually end up blaming them for their child’s disinterest in the written word by saying something along the lines of ‘kids only think books are boring if they grow up around people telling them books are boring instead of encouraging them to find out for themselves.’

My nephew, for example, used to love reading his books whenever he came round to visit us but suddenly when we started seeing him a little less as he got older, books got ‘boring’. Something to do with his mother sending all their books to the charity shop regardless of whether they were read, unread, favourites or special presents? I think it may be. She thinks books have no value and therefore, it would seem, her children think the same.

This makes me incredibly sad. Nothing is better than picking up a good book and being transported somewhere else for an adventure with your new best friend. Regardless of whether you are one, eleven, thirty-two or one hundred and four, a book is a wonderful thing.

Different people like different books, always have and always will. Books I read might be your idea of tosh and books you read might be my idea of sheer tedium but that doesn’t make either of our choices bad. It just makes us different people. Picking up one book that is ‘boring’ and then refusing to read any other book on the principle that all books are the same is rubbish but, sadly, something that happens all too often.

I think some people who grow up not reading much, get the impression of ‘all books are dull’ from the fact that all the reading experience they’ve had has been from What a Bad Dog! (Oxford Reading Tree) through to Of Mice and Men – namely whatever school has thrown at them in a compulsory manner. I’d think they were pretty dull too if that were all the selection I’d had, being ‘made’ to read something almost always instantly kills the enjoyment it could bring.

Luckily for me, I was brought up in a house full of bookshelves and I devoured whatever I could reach (including two encyclopaedias from cover to cover…) and thus could never understand when my friends said they didn’t like books. There was so much to discover and explore, I couldn’t imagine going a day without creating further adventures for my current favourite character in my head as I went about my day.

As for being too young for books, my 11 month old daughter already loves her books, granted she usually has them upside down or in her mouth but she still loves them. I often go into her bedroom on a morning to discover her sitting up pointing at one of her tiny board books, grinning broadly and turning the pages three at a time.

I think what I’m trying to say is I’m afraid of current generations, including my own, missing out on the experience of reading just because of other people telling them that books are ‘uncool’, ‘boring’ and ‘a waste of time’ as well as not introducing their own children to books because they don’t see any value in the pastime.

I got endless pleasure out of reading to the point where I wanted to write my own stories, almost as a thank you to the people whose books I read, and I struggle to picture a life without all the colours and emotions brought to me through other people’s words. A life without that seems to me, a very plain one, though I’m not trying to say all kids should do is read. I love my Xbox 360, Nintendo DS and my TV, I just think that books add a dimension video games and widescreen visuals never can – your own imagination.

What is life without imagination? I simply can’t imagine.



This post was linked up to TheBoyAndMe’s ShowOff-ShowCase on 19th March 2011. Click the button to see more ‘Most Popular’ Posts!

25 thoughts on “‘Kids hate reading’ and other stories.

  1. To quote Einstein: “Imagination is greater than knowledge. Knowledge is limited, but Imagination encircles the world.”

    I completely agree, you can’t beat your own imagination when it comes to interpreting the author’s words, rather than seeing the director’s interpretation of the films’ script. Both types of media still have a place of course, but they aren’t mutually exclusive either.

    (Side note: we didn’t have a TV in the house till I was 13, so I spent _many_ hours as a child reading books. Something that’s sadly waned with age, but I still love spending an hour or two devouring the latest Andy McNab eBook on my phone.)


  2. I certainly agree books are so important they must be available in the home environment from the start of a child’s life. Back in the immediate post war period my parents didn’t have cash to buy many books but we had a Village Library and my Ma, like the rest of the family, was a bookworm so she visited several times a week. She took books out for me and, when I was 3 years old, persuaded the Librarian to give me my own ticket. I can still remember the tiny selection of childrens books so by School age I was reading from the adults shelving stacks.

    From bright coloured cloth books pinned to the cot bumpers, board books in a box beside the car seat, through to his bedroom wall of shelves becoming book filled I did my best to pass this love of reading on and, judging from the comment above, it worked. Plus there was access to a family computer too!

    The worse thing about downsizing for me is slowly parting with the hundreds of books acquired over a lifetime of gifts, charity shop buys and ‘treats’. But in passing them on I hope others will enjoy and it will be back to the Library more often to find new fiction writers and glossy big non fiction picture books to indulge my visual needs!


  3. “Different people like different books, always have and always will. Books I read might be your idea of tosh and books you read might be my idea of sheer tedium but that doesn’t make either of our choices bad.”

    I am afraid I do not subscribe to the above at all – I know that make me very out of step with the times but I believe wholeheartedly in quality and the best literature’s power to really make us think and to re-evaluate our assumptions. The other reason I will always prefer Steinbeck or Toibin or Evelyn Waugh to John Grisham or Dan Brown is the sheer beauty of their writing. Popular writing is more often than not very ugly. People should be able to evaluate and discriminate between books – reading is so much more rewarding if you read only the best


    1. I see your point, however, I find that sometimes I enjoy reading a book that isn’t ‘the best’ because although it may be poorly written or have a bit of a dodgy storyline that doesn’t mean it’s not going to contain a phrase, paragraph or chapter that is beautiful and stays with you forever.

      Harry Potter and Twilight are perfect examples – they’re certainly not the best written books in the world but they’re still amazingly popular – something in them speaks to people and opens their imagination which is exactly what a book should do. They’re far from the best but they’re worth a read for the little moments in them that are gold shining in a coal mine.


    2. Julian,

      Though I am inclined to agree that the writers you have mentioned are great – not forgetting people like Capote, Coetzee, Hemingway, Barthes, Derida and countless other people – Carole is really talking primarily about children being turned on to books.

      When I was younger I used to hate reading (this is more to do with being a lazy child rather than not being encouraged), but now I can’t get enough of them! I am about to start my PhD and yet I still have some Dan Brown and all the Harry Potter books on my bookshelf. Children today I think have it hard enough already with a plethora of technological distractions without having people like you telling them what is great and what is crap. That is for them to decide.

      Great blog by the way, Carole.


    3. I think there’s merit to both literary novels and the less ‘quality’ books. Literary novels challenge us to think and re-evaluate, yes, but sometimes that’s not why we read. Sometimes we do it to get away from it all. Steinbeck is great, but i wouldn’t want to take Of Mice and Men on the beach. It’s like the difference between watching some heavy drama film and chilling out to a popcorn flick. Different things for different times and frames of mind.

      And popular books do one thing really well – they get lots of people reading. If only one person out of the hundreds of Dan Brown readers is converted to a love of reading across genres, then that can ily be a good thing, right?


  4. Dan and Carole

    I do see your points but I do feel that there is a tendency nowadays to say that all music or writing or film making is worthwhile and there is not enough recognition of “the best that has been thought and known”. For example if someone like Shirley Hazzard spends 20 years writing her beautiful novel The Great Fire or Nadeen Aslam 12 years writing Maps for Lost Lovers I am not prepared to say that Jilly Cooper or Libby Purves are just as valuable. Over the last decade I have become ever more aware of just how beautiful, daring and emotionally rewarding great writing can be – I simply have not got the time to waste on those who churn out stuff on demand. I admit they are skilful but I feel diminished as a human being when I read their work


    1. Ok Julian, frankly I think you’re being a bit of a fascist and not taking this blog for what it is. Carole is commenting on children picking up books. ‘Lower’ literature is just as valid as the books you mention, period. I think you miss one of the vital aspects of reading, and for that reason I feel sorry for you. If you feel ‘diminished as a human being’ then why read their work and why comment in a negative manner here?


  5. I totally agree Carole, I am the oldest of four and the only one that enjoys reading. I try and get my youngest brother who is 10 to read to me when I can but he is more interested in the PS3. 😦

    If you looked in my house you would see books everywhere, luckily I married a fellow bookworm so we have frequent trips to Waterstone’s where many hours are spent before coming out with a pile each and that contented feeling that it was money well spent.

    We are expecting our first child any day now, and already I have stocked up the nursery with books and fully intend to read to my little one every day and encourage him to read for himself when he is older. I found the greatest comfort in books as a child, and like you say it allows you to drift off into your own little imaginary world. I love watching TV and films etc, but nothing can compare to picking up a book and letting the troubles of the day disappear as you drift into your imagination.

    I think it is a huge shame that kids these days are more focused on computers, tv’s and games than by letting their imaginations grow, at the end of the day where would we be if not for people’s imagination and creativity? We should be encouraging it, not stifling it.

    I love playing the stories of books out in my head whilst reading it, so I don’t understand people that only want to see the film version of a book rather than reading it, as it’s just someone elses interpretation.

    In terms of the ‘type’ of reading…it has to be ‘good’ what is the definition of a ‘good writer’? Is it someone who has correct grammer and spelling etc (which I am sure you will agree I do not possess) or is it the ability to make people think about what you are writing and imagine it for themselves? Whatever people define as a ‘good’ writer or a good book, it is individual choice and no-one has the right to tell you what you are reading isn’t good just because they don’t like it.

    Apologies for the long rant, but children and reading is something that is very close to my heart, and I for one will definately be encouraging my child to use his imagination and read as much as he wants to. There will be no forcing, but books will always be available for him to look at. I feel that it opens up the mind to learning, and that very important thing that I am sure you will all have noticed I approve of, is it increases imagination! 🙂


  6. I don’t deny that the old classics are beautiful works of art, but some modern ‘popular fiction’ is too in it’s own way.
    Also, I don’t know about you but I can’t think of a single child who would pick up Steinbeck or Tobin and make it all the way through without thinking ‘this is boring’. They may well pick it up when they are older and love it dearly but to begin with they need their ‘trash-fiction’ to learn to love reading in the first place.


  7. I dont read tripe all the way through – it is really not worth it. All I am doing is trying to redress the balance. There is a constant mantra nowadays about how all artistic work no matter how downmarket is equally valid. When I was a child I got started on Dickens – Oliver Twist and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and loved them. I wouldnt have wanted to go on reading the Famous Five – because frankly you grow out of that pretty quickly. I dont think it is at all facist to celebrate and admire genuinely beautiful work


    1. Are we still doing this? I’m not saying that those works should not be admired, but rather that you should not say detrimental things about works that you don’t consider great. I have said this several times now…


  8. As an immediate post WW2 child there was, as I indicated in my 1st comment, a dearth of books for young through teens readers. You would not believe the impact Dick Bruna’s books had when they finally hit the young child’s book world! A brightly coloured ‘Annual’ was the highlight of most kids book year and the weekly comics were our everyday swapsies. We devoured every new Enid Blyton, Anthony Buckeridge and Malcolm Saville as escapism reading. I remember older kids story magazines that were two column text pages and no pics – a sort of early chicklit/ladlit fodder. Certainly I read the classics when very young but only due to the lack of age suitable stuff. I know my peer group contained far less ‘pleasure readers’ in the 50’s 60’s & 70’s than my own Son’s growing up in the last 2 decades.

    Also as a bookworm of 6 decades I have concluded there are ages & stages of reading eg my Mother loved who-done-its, I couldn’t stand them til my late 30’s. I think the same applies to so called ‘Classic’ literature, some books now in that group were controversial new fiction as I grew up, John Steinbeck, Evelyn Waugh & Laurie Lee included.

    I remember the ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ Penguin Books publication trial in 1960 and being given a 1st edition by my Mother to read so I could form my own opinion on it’s worth, I was 13 and had read other D H L books. You cannot imagine how shocking the whole escapade was at the time. Something else not to be underestimated was the setting up of Virago Press in ’73 to publish and make available feminist writing & the so called ‘deviant’ literature like Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness. It had an enormous impact on the publishing world and our reading habits, something, happily those born since can take for granted. To quote Margaret Drabble “The Virago Modern Classics have reshaped literary history and enriched the reading of us all. No library is complete without them”.

    What is to be wholeheartedly applauded is the availability of the written word & superb illustration for everyone of any age at any time of day or night whether book in hand or electronically ….

    Please believe me ~ I’ve lived in a time without that accessibility.


  9. This guy really is missing the point isn’t he!?

    So what if you ‘grow’ out of certain books? Think of the memories you will have of those books when you read them for the first time. I remember reading The Never Ending Story and thinking it was amazing and written just for me. I would say I have grown out of that now but I remember how sucked in to the story I was and how it was written.

    I have those memories and am glad of them. What we are ACTUALLY talking about is that children nowadays are loosing out and not getting stimulated this way. That is the point.


  10. So Danielle Steele is every bit as valuable as Toni Morrison – well that is one point of view I suppose

    Flaubert said “Read in order to live” – not Read in order to chill out


    1. You see Julian, now you’re just starting to piss me off, which I guess is the reason you’re still writing on here. We are saying (I guess it is now we as so many other people on here appear to be of Carole’s opinion), that yes, these books are as valuable, their purpose is just the same as any book, to engage the reader yes? I am not saying that sit in the same position in a literary hierarchy, merely that they both exist on that hierarchy. Interestingly, you have misquoted Flaubert as I believe he said.

      ‘Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live. ‘

      Since this particular blog entry is about children reading do you not think this does little for your argument?


  11. How is that a misquote ? “read in order to live” is there – what are you talking about?

    Anyway those books are only amusing to people who are living like Archie Rice dead behind the eyes?

    Do you really think Zoya by Steel can engage anyone? Have you read the beginning – you might like it if you were 9 years old – but is is supposed to be for adults


  12. However I am pleased about one thing Dan – at least I have got you reading Flaubert – a really great writer – that is progress


  13. Julian,

    Firstly, a misquote doesn’t necessarily mean that you got the words wrong, you did however completely miss the point of Flaubert’s words and he mentions children specifically just before the bit you quoted. As I said before, this does little to support your argument, quite the opposite in fact.

    Secondly, I would really appreciate it if you would stop being such a snob, the blog is about children, this is why I keep referring to them… furthermore, it is possible that some adults have not had the benefit of you rich, though clearly elitist literary education. Some adults may start to read for the first time when they are thirty.

    Whilst I am glad that you feel you have introduced me to Flaubert, I am sorry to inform you that I read Madame Bovary as part of an aesthetics module I took for my undergrad degree, I’m sure it has was a helpful text to reflect upon when I conceived the research outline for my Ph.D.

    There are may other directions I could take this argument. The English department at which I did my undergrad (which is rated number 5 in the UK I think?) has Harry Potter on one of its reading lists. You may also like to note that the author of this blog also has a degree in English…

    You should also have a look at Terry Eagleton’s ‘After Theory’ which has many interesting things to say about the relationship between popular culture and academia.

    The book is also great as it is well written a very easy to grasp, since you’re having such difficulty grasping some of the points that I and several others have made I’m sure this will prove beneficial.


    P.S. Please fuck off now as I have a conference paper to finish, thanks.

    P.P.S. Happy Birthday Carole, I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I have enjoyed writing it.


  14. Reading is so important, and often it’s just a case of finding the right author to get a child hooked on reading, as was the case a few years ago with a child in my class.

    Thank you so much for linking up to ShowOff ShowCase, sorry it’s taken me so long to comment!


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