Children should be introduced to the joy of reading for pleasure as early as possible, and it should be seen as a family activity. That is the message a group of British authors and a child literacy promoter had to share at the Hong Kong Book Fair yesterday. 'The process of learning to read can be quite daunting for a child, but if you learn to enjoy reading, it can take some of that away from it,' said Carey Fluker Hunt, creative development manager of Seven Stories, a national centre for children's reading in Newcastle, northern England. 'If you become absorbed in a story, then ... it can be a very powerful way to open up the world to them.' Research has shown that children whose parents read to them are far more likely to develop healthy reading habits when they grow up, she said. She was speaking at the British Council's authors' forum at the Convention and Exhibition Centre. Award-winning children's author and illustrator Polly Dunbar said reading together with young children was a valuable bonding experience. 'A book can be a bridge between parents and their children,' she said. 'You can sit down to watch a cartoon with a child, but you don't get that sharing of the space between the words and the pictures, the questions that are asked.' Peter Suart, a writer, artist and performer who has published seven books for children, said he had been an avid reader as a young child but fell out of the habit in his teens. 'I even read at the breakfast table, which shouldn't have been allowed, really,' he said. 'Then I found rock 'n' roll. I went off into the wilderness for many years, but I found my way back eventually. Now I read constantly and widely. We don't have a television in our house. It's a ghastly machine.' Suart, who was raised in Hong Kong but went to school in Britain where he is now based, said the vast crowds attending the book fair testified to a vibrant local interest in reading. 'If you grew up without fiction, I can't imagine what your life would be like,' he said. Justin Hill, the third author at the forum, has been living in Hong Kong for the past year. 'This is quite an exciting time now in Hong Kong for literature in English,' he said.