The National Literary Trust this morning revealed that, of a recent survey of 21,000 children and young adults, a shocking 1 in 7 children has never visited a bookshop. This figure will come as a blow to book lovers nationwide amidst growing fears for the future of the high-street bookstore in the wake of the e-book phenomenon.
The true tragedy of this statistic is not the assumption of decreased literacy levels amongst children – to the contrary the NLT have announced that the UK’s primary reading levels are now 11th in the world – rather the inference that children are no longer simply reading for the joy of it. Whilst academic literacy continues to develop, this newest study points to the lack of interest outside of a school environment, for which parents must surely bear the weight of responsibility? Whilst nobody can argue against the fact that you can’t force a child to enjoy an activity, it is undeniable that they cannot begin to take joy from something unless given the opportunity.
These days it seems that parents are doing their utmost to ensure that their beloved offspring are reaping the benefits of a multitude of extra-curricular activities – apparently a normal night at the Brownies in London now includes Sushi making and ice-skating at the Natural History Museum – but the simple pleasures have been long forgotten. My favourite activity in the lead up to Christmas as a child was not leafing through catalogues, pin pointing all of the things I wanted from Father Christmas, or the endless baking of mince pies and goodies, but something entirely different. Each year, as the big day drew closer and closer, my sister and I would look forward to the day when we would be collected from school and taken to the local Waterstones to choose our presents.
We would spend what seemed like hours sifting through book after book, making sure not to add anything to our baskets until we were absolutely sure that we were going to love it. As young children we would long for this day, knowing that we would sit and read extracts, taking it in turns to ride the rocking horse in the middle of the shop and eventually leave with a pile of books which we would devour on Christmas Day. As we grew, so did this tradition, until we would bypass the rocking horse in favour of the teen section, yet ultimately we would always be filled with the same sense of excitement when my Mother announced where we were going.
My fear is not that children are not being given the opportunity to read, but that they are not being provided with the ultimate reading experience; the bookshop. Although the rocking horse is now long gone, it was always a vital part of the experience and is now something which is forever ingrained in my mental image of a perfect bookshop. Although many of today’s children won’t understand this simple pleasure, we can only hope that there are still a minority out there who don’t associate the word ‘book’ purely with a Kindle or an iPad but instead conjure up their own mental image of a perfect bookshop.