Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published September 23, 2012.
By Eugenia O'Neal
The young daughter of a friend of mine told me the other day that she doesn't like to read. We were chatting as we waited for my friend to finish what she was doing so we could head out to an event and when she said that I felt, well, gutted would be the word. Her mom is a reader. Her dad, too, though he mostly reads business books or political memoirs, that kind of thing. So I told her all I thought she was missing. I pointed out that some of those movies she loves so much like the Harry Potter series were books first. I said that books will reveal much more of the world than she could possibly learn by just watching tv or even surfing the Net. She responded, laughingly, that her mom had already told her all that but she just found reading boring. Well!!!
I didn't know what more to say so I didn't say anything. But, later, discussing it with her mom, we conceded the problem was bigger than Rhonda. In fact, a couple of the high school English teachers I know, say that every year it seems like less and less children are reading at their age-level. Worse, their ability to express themselves and to comprehend what they read also seems to be in decline. One of the teachers has started a book club to help overcome this but they think the problem has reached epidemic proportions. Of course, it's not just BVI children. Educators on other islands and in the States, for example, have been complaining about this ever since the publication of the sensational Why Johnny Can't Read.
For years, the Caribbean prided itself on being a highly-literate region with some of the best schools in the world. The region's roster of writers include V. S. Naipaul, Samuel Selvon, Jamaica Kincaid, George Lamming and Nobel Laureate, Derek Walcott, among others. But, if less children are reading, where will future generations of Caribbean writers come from?
As a parent, I've tried to instill a love of reading in my daughter by getting rid of television, by discussing the stories she's reading with her, by asking her to come up with different endings for stories, and by making sure she has some of the best children's books in her library. She will pick up a book and read it but she, increasingly, uses her Kindle to surf YouTube. Can The Wind in the Willows compete with Beyonce, or even Alvin and the Chipmunks?