Yesterday was World Book Day and I had the tremendous privilege of taking part in it by reading to young children in Eastbourne.
The one to four-year-olds at Camelot Nursery in Lewes Road hadn’t a clue who I was but, like all children, they were mesmerised as I read to them wonderful books such as The Gruffalo and The Smartest Giant in Town.
It was a great way to spend a morning, I can tell you!
All research shows that reading to children and encouraging them to read for pleasure is more likely to determine whether a child does well at school than their social or economic background.
It leads to greater imagination and better vocabulary, and it helps them understand the world and how stories work, so there’s really no downsides.
World Book Day is a great event that allows children to engage with reading and their imaginations.
They go to school or nursery dressed up as their favourite book characters and much is made of how much fun books are.
This is so important in the smartphone and tablet age because research also shows that too much time with technology can be a barrier to books and learning and socialising.
Getting the book habit is also something that will last a lifetime because those who read young continue to read and they read more challenging authors as they grow older.
This ability, and I think it is an ability, is the greatest pleasure so I was a little downcast when I read earlier this week a newspaper report telling me one in five Britons cannot name a single author of literature.
This means 20 per cent of the population can’t name figures like Jane Austen or William Shakespeare or Graham Greene or Iris Murdoch.
The Royal Society of Literature survey also discovered one in four adults had not read a literary work in the last six months and 15 per cent found reading a classic too difficult.
Now, I’m certainly no book snob.
I firmly believe reading anything is beneficial and classic novels might not be for everyone but, as a former teacher, I do find this survey a little depressing.
This means millions are not engaging in the joy of our shared literary heritage and everyone is poorer for it because there are fewer people around to talk about Great Expectations or Wuthering Heights, and seeing the film really doesn’t count, in my book!
More is now made of reading to children and more is made of making it into a life-long habit, so the optimist in me thinks events like World Book Day will do much for future generations to pick up the bug and, if this survey is completed in 20 years’ time, the results will be better.