Reminiscing on Chimamanda’s talk on the danger of a single story, the part where she talked about the early period of her writing often strikes me. She mentioned that the first stories she ever wrote had girls with pony tails and ginger bread men, but on being exposed to African stories, her African characters started coming alive with kinky hair and eba. This shows that exposing children to books influences their thinking on the long run and prepares them to become active and responsible members of the society (I’m not sure the adjectives “active” and “responsible” convey the right message, but anyhow). On a personal note, I know that reading a lot of non-academic materials contributed positively to my writing and other aspects of my life.
Fluency in language and an improved vocabulary can be acquired if reading is fostered at an early stage, especially for second language scholars. As a little girl, my mother bought me little fancy notebooks; she called them vocabulary book and the words I encountered then have become part of my daily use. Writing the SAT exams also made me realise how much non-academic reading helps especially in the critical thinking aspect. The fact that reading aids critical thinking just became clearer to me recently. I met a 12-year old who told me what she will ask Chimamanda if she ever meets her: why Jaja had to be jailed in his mother’s stead. The short conversation actually made me view Purple Hibiscus from a different light. It turns out that it not only helps in developing empathy, it nurtures curiosity and creativity too as she could rewrite the story to her taste.
While studies have shown that reading helps young children enhance concentration and exercises their brain, some argue that there are more 21st century worthy means to achieve this end. However, exposure to different genres of reading fosters particular interest in terms of career paths. A children’s movie can have a very similar effect as an Enid Blyton story, but reading helps one familiarise with books and consequently promotes motivation towards academics. When I hear comments like after this exam I will not read anything again, even sign board, it’s an indication that reading is a chore that should only be done when examinations are approaching.
Appreciating arts and literature as a whole is best cultivated by exposing children to books. Reading is actually the only way of travelling the world from one tiny space in the room. For a country like ours, where tribalism is looming at every end, it is necessary to learn about other cultures through stories that are unbiased and void of negative stereotypes. Although writers have their personal ideas spilling in to their works, the reading experience broadens views and walking in the shoes of these writers provides options before drawing a conclusion. Something as ordinary as listening to news and providing in-depth analysis of happenings cannot be done without proper knowledge, a kind of knowledge that cannot be acquired by going to school alone.
In this holiday season where parents engage their children and wards in tonnes of activities both academic and non-academic, it is important to provide reading resources of all kinds. For those who already enjoy reading, a variety of genres is a good way to enlighten them on various issues. It could really be a struggle for those who do not like reading at all but, eventually, it will be worth every sweat.
I think, therefore I write