Reading is a lifelong joy that must begin early

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 October, 2012, 5:38pm

Arti Mirchandani started reading to her daughter before she was born. The Bookazine buying director was determined to make books part of her child's daily life, and it worked. Today, her daughter, Shrada, now aged four, is an avid bookworm - and won't go to bed unless she has been read at least three stories.

Experts say reading from an early age provides a wealth of benefits.

"In the United States, studies have proven that adults who read a lot as children do a lot better in life," says Hong Kong author, lecturer and reading advocate Sarah Brennan. "They get better grades at school and achieve higher qualifications at college; they get better jobs, hold them for longer and get paid more; they have happier family lives; they even have better health and live longer."

Christa Tam, from Commercial Press, which regularly brings new titles and authors to Hong Kong and has set up youth reading group Blooming Club, says daily reading builds language foundations. "Reading helps children grow vocabulary and have a better grasp of grammar, without being aware that it's happening. It also fuels imagination and emotional intelligence."

The first step in getting children interested, according to Brennan, is to read yourself. "The earliest ability of a child is imitation - so modelling reading for leisure and pleasure is essential if you want your child to read books," she says.

To encourage an unwilling child, she suggests finding a "hook" to draw them in: hobbies, sports and interests can all be topics that will tempt even the most reluctant reader.

Mirchandani says the classics still appeal. "In spite of all the novelty books for toddlers, it is classics such as Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak or, We're Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen that sell steadily and in large numbers. My daughter's favourites at the minute include Jack And The Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood," she says.

A new author making waves is Abie Longstaff. "Her new series, The Fairytale Hairdresser, has taken off with young children. It's about a hairdresser who does the hair of the fairy-tale characters. It's funny and beautifully illustrated," Tam says.

Joan Szeto, from Hong Kong retailer Pollux, says about 80 per cent of children aged six to nine will choose their own titles. "The trend tends to be series like Magic Tree House, Rainbow Magic or Geronimo Stilton all of which have recently topped the New York Times best-seller list. There is also a trend in cyber-games, such as Club Penguin or Moshi Monsters, where books are created from online games."

Mirchandani has seen some changes in the books children are choosing: "They have moved on from Harry Potter's wizardry and Twilight's vampires to mythology and dystopia. The big books are Ally Condie's Matched trilogy and Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games."