For children, reading books may be a springboard to a richer life
By Wang Jie
“Books are the best friends,” wrote the French author Alphonse Daudet in the 19th century. “No matter what difficulties you meet in life, you can turn to them for help and they will never disappoint you.”
Does the same hold true in a digital age where online information and entertainment captivate the attention of youth?
A recent survey released by the Chinese Academy of Press and Publications seems to suggest that cyberspace isn’t crowding out book reading — yet.
Respondents 17 years and younger read an average 8.45 books in the last three months of 2014, according to the survey. A “reading rate” of 76.6 percent was actually 5 percentage points higher than the same survey a year earlier.
About 89 percent of parents with children 8 years and younger actively encouraged reading by their offspring, who spend an average 24 minutes a day with a book in hand.
Of course, the method of buying and reading books has been changed by the digital revolution. Many Chinese young people order books online and even read them in online formats.
According to the survey, Chinese adults read, on average, 4.5 hard copies of books, 65 editions of newspapers and six editions of magazines in 2014.
Irene Hu, a Chinese-American who has an 8-year-old daughter in Washington, said Chinese parents are more prone to urging children to read textbooks than reading for leisure.
“I think Chinese parents usually want their children to read functional books, such as reference books, that will help their studies,” she said. “I want my daughter to enjoy reading beyond just textbooks.”
Christine Liu, a 30-something full-time mother in Shanghai, said she is trying to instill a reading ethos in her son, although he’s still only 2 years old.
“I’ve heard too many complaints from my friends about their children’s addiction to computer games,” she said.
“The worst was a boy who became so addicted that he had to be sent to psychological therapy. Boys seem to get lured into electronic games more easily than girls, so I am trying to forestall that as early as possible.”
She surfs to Internet to find children’s books for her son. She said she especially likes audio-book made of fabric that her son can even chew without repercussions.
“At first, these books seemed to be just toys for him,” she says. “Then I would tell him what they are about. The content is usually very simple, and he seems attracted to the colors and animals in these books.”
Liu says that she normally spends half an hour in the morning and another half an hour in the evening reading books to her son.
“I can almost recite all the books by heart,” she said. “But I refuse to give up. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Feng Yalan, a local psychologist, emphasizes that parents are key in cultivating good reading habits in their children.
“A child is like a piece of blank paper, and the parents can decide what colors to paint on it,” Feng said. “Good reading behavior will not only help the children become more focused, but also contribute to their behavior in society.”
A bad example
Rebecca Li, a 40-something mother of a 14-year-old son, admitted it’s difficult to get children interested in reading.
“I think the best role model for a child is a parent,” she said. “But how much time do I spend on reading every day? I have to say, almost none. After a long day of work and household chores, the perfect relaxation for me is a soap opera on television. If I cannot discipline myself, then how can I expect my son to develop good habits?”
Despite that, her son has developed an interest in books.
“He reads books mostly related to science and war,” she said. “It is only a pity that he doesn’t expand that interest base.”
Psychologist Feng said it’s a step-by-step process.
“At first, it is the parents who choose books for their children,” he said, “but later the children are able to choose what interests them most.”
According to the survey, Chinese parents are most interested in encouraging reading when children are in kindergarten or primary school. However, parents of middle or high school students don’t tend to press the issue.
Fu Chaowei, father of a 16-year-old son now in the ninth grade at one of Shanghai’s best middle schools, said his son doesn’t have time for leisure reading.
“Frankly, he likes reading,” said Fu. “But he almost has no time for it. There is too much homework and too many tests at school. In his leisure time, he just wants to catch up on the latest computer games because that’s what all his classmates are talking about. This is a reality facing Chinese parents. High scores and top schools don’t come from wide reading but from countless tests and exercises.”
Xu Ning, 16, who is studying at a local middle school, lamented, “I am able to read books only during summer and winter vacations. Spending a whole afternoon just reading a book that I like is almost impossible for me now.”
If the parents are in need of Dr Seuss and Clifford for some bedtime stories, here is the place to go. The bookstore also has Chinese children’s stories, good for teaching kids about traditional culture.
Opening hours: 9:30am-8:30pm
Address: 189 Qingtong Rd, Zhangjiang Hi-tech Park, Pudong
How to get there: Metro Line 2 Zhangjiang Hi-tech Park Station