Today’s children are tomorrow’s adults, leaders, teachers, astronauts, scientists and even newspaper editors. Their literacy, imagination, desire to change the world for better is our only hope to a world that is full of peace, love and friendship. We need our young people to grow up with imagination, hope, curiosity, open hearts and open minds to embrace the world.
To be honest, we are not leaving them a very nice world. We are building walls and fences, we hurl bombs in the name of religion and peace. We have eroded our ecosystem and brought on global warming. In balance, we need to give them the power to imagine a better world. The hope that they can make it better if they stood shoulder to shoulder with every child in the world, brown or black or white, with varying abilities and varying sensibilities.
And who is going to give them that power? Is it the parents who are busy tending to a livelihood in these times of austerity? Is it the teachers who are struggling to keep up with forms to fill and boxes to tick? Do we give them out as advice in a manual? Do we sit them down for a lecture?
The only way our children and their children are going to understand the past, dream the future and shape this world’s destiny is by reading books. Books that tell them about distant worlds and cultures, books that tell them about things around the corner, books about the earth, the space and the moon, books about brave warriors who can go on quests and books about girls who can change the world.
Children need to see themselves in stories that are positive, hopeful and perhaps even sad. Children need to find the fire in the words, the fire that lights their imagination, makes them fly into the sky and look around and say – this is my world and I’m going to make this better.
Lectures don’t work – not even with adults. Stories do. An engine that tries equips a child to try and climb up the sofa on his own as long as it takes. A snowy day celebrates the everyday joys of this fabulous planet.
Stories from faraway lands shows children that there are friends who have the same desires and hopes as them, beyond the oceans and across the mountains. Stories about their friends tell them the new girl in the hijab likes ice-cream too. They read about Anna Hibiscus and #1 Car-spotter and find out how kids in Nigeria grow up and how they too just want to go to school, make friends and listen to stories.
And for this reason, the adult world needs to acknowledge the power of stories, for young children. Adults have to acknowledge that if they don’t prepare their next generation to dream, imagine, hope and love, our human race has very little chance of survival.
Our planet is used to recreating herself. She brings on snowstorms and floods to erase the species at any given time and start fresh. Especially if we do not take care of her. So far we haven’t done a good job of it. But if we want to survive and not perish like the dinosaurs, we have to learn from what this planet has taught us. We need to help this planet rejuvenate by cutting down on greed and violence and look beyond our noses.
Looking after my two young nephews, I noticed that they learn better by watching me do things. And that meant I had to show them the right things to do. By reading books, by drawing random things on a white sheet of paper, by making up stories with them. They follow suit. They too want to read, tell stories and draw what’s in their imagination.
How do we replicate this across the nation? Across the world? We need everyone’s help. We need teachers to tell stories and read stories – where everyone can see them. We need parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles to put on a mask and muck about with Gruffalo and the Hungry Caterpillar. We need the media to celebrate books for children – fiction, non-fiction, picture books, story books not just from our island nation, from across the world, across the spectrum, for every child that wants to see his or her own reflection in books.
We need newspapers, television, politicians and celebrities to tell us what to read, discover gems from across the world, show us the best books our children should be reading. After all tomorrow’s newspapers, media, government and pop culture is going to be full of today’s children.
Here are seven ideas to bring more attention in the media to children’s books. They are important, even if I, as a children’s author says so. Even if I who is not a mother says so. Because even if I don’t have any children of my own, the children of this world, wherever they are, they are the masters of the universe tomorrow.
- How about every talk show has one book on display just before the music is showcased?
- How about every once in a while, instead of a pop song, a children’s song and the singer is showcased?
- Every newspaper (online and print) has a feature showcasing one book a day. Just ask the people who work in the media industry who are parents. That’s in-house research for you.
- All politicians on their website or twitter handle post one children’s book they read recently (or when they were young) at least once a week. If you want more votes in 10 years time, you’ve to cultivate your voters now.
- Teachers walk around with your favourite book at school. Talk about it at random.
- Parents – sit down for a quiet reading time after dinner (or before or both). You don’t even have to read together. You just have to read. And children will follow. Who knows, maybe you will rediscover your joys of reading too. (If you think you don’t like it or don’t have the time for it).
- Authors, illustrators, storytellers, editors, bloggers – keep tweeting, blogging and talking about books. Don’t worry if you can’t see a revolution yet. The revolutionists are still growing up.
Want to do more? Sign this open letter started by S F Said.