Reading, fast and slow

Last week was one of our favourite days - World Book Day. This annual event is a chance for parents, teachers, kids and readers of all ages to celebrate books and stories – a day to remember the reasons why we read.

Our world is now split between online and offline, the virtual and the real, the physical and the digital. We all know these two realms do not exist independently of each other, which is why being able to read whatever is in front of you (whatever form that takes) is becoming more nuanced and complex. For us, finding a way for books - particularly children’s books - to acknowledge those two worlds seems more important than ever. We need to allow ourselves to be open and flexible to the idea of reading taking more forms than it ever has before - but we also need to ensure children have ways to appreciate the value and transformative power of stories, and the act of reading itself.

Working in the field of visual literacy we know that digital media has transformed the volume of information presented to us on a day-to-day basis, particularly when it comes to images and messages. We see them everywhere and we often find ourselves wondering which bits to recognise and acknowledge, and which bits to stop and dwell upon, to reflect and comprehend and engage and build upon the ideas we are being shown. Stories are perfect for this - allowing us to spend time getting to grips with a narrative, with characters, giving our brains the opportunity to concentrate and focus. They train us to remember how to do something beyond an immediate reaction to stimuli.

We believe being able to cultivate a strong sense of literacy that spans the written word and the symbols we encounter everyday is a must. Not because one is more important than the other, but because we live in a world where reading doesn’t just happen in front of paper books, it happens when you are out on the street or in front of a computer, tablet or mobile. It happens all around you. There are more routes into reading, and to be equipped to find your path and navigate it is the best gift you can give, or receive.

Fuelling the love

In a 2013 Nielsen Book report, it was found that children’s access to tablets had doubled in the space of a year. And yet, despite their increased usage, only 20% actually read books on their devices. There’s a disheartening gap there - because we all know technology is now becoming a more and more recognised part of young people’s lives. That means young people from all backgrounds as well.

According to findings from a Literacy Trust report, children of lower socioeconomic status who have a touch screen at home are twice as likely to look at stories daily than those from wealthier backgrounds (16.0% vs. 7.2%). And those poorer children who use both books and touch screens to look at stories are less likely to perform below the expected standard for their age than if they only look at books.

For us, this shows that technology does not have to signal the end of a love of reading. On the contrary - it can fuel it, with the Literacy Trust finding “children are more likely to enjoy reading  more if they look at stories using both books and a touch screen, compared with using books only (77.4% vs. 70.8%)”. The reality we are facing is that there are more ways to read than ever, and that is something that allows more kids to find new ways to engage with stories. That should be a fact that we choose to celebrate, and acknowledge, and come up with new ways that allow stories to transcend mediums, without having to threaten the existence of them. 

So as we bid farewell to another wonderful World Book Day, we want to celebrate the art of reading in all it’s forms. As Daniel Kahneman might put it: reading, fast and slow. Whether you choose a picture book, an inherited hardback, an audiobook, an app or even a blank piece of paper and your own imagination, make every day a day in which you celebrate all the ways you read - and all the reasons why.

Kristen Harrison and Nerys Hudson are the publisher and publishing assistant at The Curved House / Curved House Kids