Are we killing the joy of reading?

By July 31, 2017Education

In this library, children like to “cook the books” in the toy oven (Source: Smith, 2017)

In preparation for a course on “Literacies” I’m teaching this semester, I spent the weekend going through some of my diaries for observations on literacy practices. I was particularly interested to look back at my notes from the early 2000s when I frequently visited library spaces designed for pre-school children. One surprising observation that stood out from those notes was the heavy use of baby wipes and hand sanitizers in those spaces.

For instance, in October 2004 I observed a mother sitting in the children’s section of a Sydney bookstore on a tiny children’s chair with a one-year-old on her lap. Mother and child had the display copy of a touch-and-feel book in front of them. The mother dragged the child’s hand over the textured item and repeatedly pronounced the adjective that went with the texture (“soft”, “rough”, “bumpy”). After each stroke, the mother wiped the baby’s hand with a wet wipe. I observed the activity for around ten minutes but it had begun before I arrived and still went on when I left. As the touch-and-feel book only had four or five pages, the activity seemed extremely tedious. The scene is still etched in my mind because of the mother’s serious dedication to this activity which, to me, seemed boring, contrived and ill-considered. I’ve never been a fan of touch-and-feel books because I don’t think they are a good way to experience texture and to hone the sense of touch; much richer experiences are available in “the real world”, both in the home and, even more so, in nature. To overlay books over nature in this way diminishes the joy of both.

This was not an isolated observation; and I have a fair number of records of dutiful but joyless interactions between carers and young children in the children’s sections of bookstores and public libraries. Many carers seemed to regard it as their duty to bring their young children to such spaces. Once there, they would go into “teacher-mode” and try and get their children to engage with books in a very narrow way resonant of formal teaching: usually making children look at a book while trying to get them to sit still on the adult’s lap or in a stroller. And wherever toddlers and preschoolers got to touch books, baby wipes and hand sanitizers never seemed far away. Did these adults think the literacy bug is a germ?

Marketing a school-like approach to early literacy

These observations provide evidence that a discourse about the importance of early reading for children’s schools success is readily available and imbues contemporary parenting. Many parents in the middle-class suburbs of my observations are evidently keen to set children on the path of reading and formal literacy learning from a very young age. But what will children actually learn from practices such as those described here? That reading is a matter of duty but also something dirty?

My – admittedly unsystematic – observations are not unique to Australian libraries, as a recent study in a public library in a small town in the UK demonstrates (Smith, 2017). There, the researcher found that the children’s section of the library was designed as an extension of a school space. Support for children’s school work was the key aim of the space, as the librarians explained and as was evident from the presence of reading scheme books, educational posters about the benefits of reading or workbooks.

Mothers dutifully seemed to bring their children to that library, too, but – maybe in a point of difference from the Sydney tiger mothers I described above – had little interest in engaging with children’s literacy practices themselves. Instead, they focused on their smartphones or chatted with other mums and left the children largely to their own devices. The children, perhaps unsurprisingly, preferred the toys available in the children’s corner over the books. Apparently, a favorite activity was to place books in a toy oven and to “cook the books”.

The idea that early literacy is beneficial to children and they need to be exposed to books as early as possible is now ubiquitous. In addition to librarians, teachers and parenting experts, the idea is also promoted by retailers: most supermarkets now sell all kinds of learning toys intended to promote early reading, school-readiness and “the joy of learning.”

The catch is that the activities I have described above and those examined by Helen Victoria Smith are not joyful. Having one’s little hand dragged over some random surface while hearing isolated vocabulary items and having the same hand wiped down every few seconds must seem more like a punishment than like fun.

What books do best is open up our imagination, they expand our minds and they allow us to travel across time and space. Above all, they allow us to see the world through someone else’s eyes. Are we making it harder for our children to discover the joy of books, the joy of reading and the joy of learning precisely by turning literacy practices into a utilitarian duty that is all about school-readiness and learning the alphabet?

Related content


Smith, H. V. (2017). Cooking the Books: What Counts as Literacy for Young Children in a Public Library? Literacy, n/a-n/a. doi: 10.1111/lit.12121

Author Ingrid Piller

Dr Ingrid Piller is Professor of Applied Linguistics at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Ingrid’s research expertise is in the fields of intercultural communication, bilingual education and the sociolinguistics of language learning and multilingualism in the contexts of migration and globalization.

More posts by Ingrid Piller
  • Tricia

    “Cooking books” reminded me of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” where firemen set books on fire–quite a grim expression of distaste for reading. Ironic and alarming that this kind of play, albeit innocent, transpires in preschool libraries.

    I think Dr. Ingrid’s observations are important eye-openers not only for carers but also for children’s book writers and publishers as well as librarians. What kind of books will engage young readers without the voluntary but sometimes unnecessary cajoling of adults? What kind of content matters to kids today? What language best speaks to them? What book design will spark curiosity in young minds? How should children’s libraries be designed to provide a more inviting and interesting environment for knowledge searching?

  • Amra Habib

    I can describe Dr. Ingrids’ observations as 100% rights. In nowadays people are focusing on their devices and social media rather than recognising the importance of books in literacy. Parents are ignoring the benefits of books, introducing a new generation based on material world: day after day we are forgetting how to skimp through the book. Our new generation is growing up with their devices, we all know children addicted to ipad or cell phones kids videos. I personally highly recommend books for kids, i have a deep relation with the papers. I even like its smelling. Between the letters, a profound knowledge is hidden.

  • Nadiah Aziz

    Hi Prof Ingrid! I’m Nadiah from APPL941. I can definitely relate to this post with my own personal experiences. My older sister sells educational toys and books and she has two daughters aged 7 and 4 whom I regard as my own. I reckon it will be a struggle for overprotective and germaphobic parents to encourage their kids to read especially in public libraries, hence the use of gadgets such as phones and iPads as substitutes.

    I’d like to share what my sister and I practise at home or even when we’re travelling. My nieces would bring their favourite books along but one of them has to be the activity book that promotes science and experiment or their cooking/ baking book. At least twice a week we would let them choose which science experiment or recipe that they would want to try out and the older daughter who is 7 would read the instructions while the younger one who is 4 would look at the images and listen to the instructions, and imitate. We would just supervise and monitor their activities and try really hard not to kill their creativity and imagination while ‘playing’ because that is how we as parents in particular, can scaffold the children’s social and cognitive development.

    In so doing, they would see reading as a way to guide them and to help them achieve their goals and in the later life, hopefully they will realise that literacies is the key to information, and information is knowledge, and knowledge is power. =)

    Nadiah AZIZ

  • S. J. L.

    This article reminds me of my friend’s story. When he was a child, he studied English at a private institution. The problem was that the curriculum of the institution was based on rote learning. He just repeatedly memorized grammar and practiced it over and over. Finally, my friend regarded learning English as boring stuff and quit it. The point is that tedious and boring activities to have children do something can deprive the joy of the activities, like reading, so they can’t continue.

  • Jay Mi Tan

    Hi Nadiah,

    I totally agree with the statement on parents who are overprotective and germaphobic. Similarly, I can resonate to this piece of writing, as my cousin is one of ‘those’ mothers with baby wipes and hand sanitizers. And, I think this mainly has to do with the fact that we are living in a generation of technology, where mobile devices are becoming more like a need than a want. Learning has been made easy with the invention of amazing educational applications, and (almost) anything and everything can be found with the use of search engines. This evolution has created learning through the lens of ‘screen time’, which unfortunately is slowly killing the joy of reading in children.

    I really like the activities that you and your sister practice with your nieces.

    Jay Mi Tan (APPL941)

  • Gloria Christabel

    I do believe that reading and it’s importance has been
    greatly undermined. But even more so, the joy of reading has taken a backseat.
    I could count on one hand alone the number of people I know who actually find joy in reading. A lot of them find it cumbersome. The secret probably lies in the age that this habit was
    cultivated in them by their parents.

    The mother who dragged her child’s handacross the page of the book and later wiped her child’s hand with a wet wipewas probably concerned about her child’s hygiene as baby’s are prone to bacteria and infections. Nevertheless, she seems to have overlooked the child’s
    reaction toward his/her mum’s actions. If the mother continues to do so as the
    child grows up, he/she will find books extremely tedious and not fit to be
    classified as ‘enjoyable’. The manner in which we approach reading is crucial.
    It takes careful cultivation from an early age. I developed a keen interest for
    reading through the stories my dad used to read me before bed when I was just a
    child. At times he’d read to me, and at times, he’d create a story to tell me. Eventually,
    he started buying me books and out of curiosity, I started reading them, and
    the rest is history, as they say. I’ve been enamored ever since.

  • Riser

    Dear Prof Inggrid.
    this is a very interesting article and I would like to share my points of view regarding some issues discussed. Before coming to Australia, I taught English for a 7-year-old boy back in Indonesia. first week of teaching was a bit disastrous for me because I could not find a good rhythm to teach him. He had a very short attention span and always got distracted with other things around him. Then, I found out that, this lkid is a kinaesthetic learner where learns best through touching and moving. So, I prepared some pop-up pictures with English words, feel-and-touch books with short English sentences. I still remember vividly the moment when I introduces him the feel-and-touch English book about animals and he was excited to read the books. Since he is able to read and write in Indonesia and masters English alphabets very well, I changed the way I taught him using the feel-and-touch book. instead of asking him to touch and read the English words, I asked him to close his eyes, touched the words while guessing or spelling out the English words. He enjoyed this kind of teaching very well, could understand those animals in English quickly and made short English sentence of it. Therefore, in my opinion, feel-and-touch books sometimes are helpful to teach some kinaesthetic learners because those special learners enjoy learning by touching and moving things and grasp it fast. However, it takes more efforts for the teachers, librarians, parents and care takers to modify a bit the way they use the touch-and-feel books to introduce English literacy and make it more fascinating. Otherwise, it will be same as you said that those books will be more or less boring.

    Another point is the over-use of wet wipes and hand sanitiser. Honestly speaking, this information is really new for me (Thanks to bring it up, Prof), perhaps, I may not happen to see that kind of activities yet here in Australia. I come from the eastern part of Indonesia and I can say that most libraries in my areas have many books for children in children section without providing the wet tissues and hand sanitiser. I think there are other considerations why they do not provide it. Despite that, the point I would like to note down here is about the excessive use of wipes and hand sanitiser in Australia and other countries. In my point of view, those parents are really concern on their’s children’s health and hygiene, therefore, they try to protect and prevent their kids from the sick caused by the germ. Nonetheless, if they keep doing this to their kids, the kids will end up not feeling the joy of reading the books.

  • Julie

    This article interests me a lot since reading is what I am trying to teach my three-year-old girl at home. I was surprised with the story of the mother with her child while ‘reading’ the touch-and-feel book. Even when my daughter plays with the toys in public, I would only do the wiping or cleaning after she finishes playing. I really want her to fully enjoy what she is doing, so I can’t agree more that the joy of reading in this case has been derived of and I wonder if the child could truly grow his/her interest in reading later.
    As reading is beneficial, it should be made fun at the early stage and I think one of the good ways is to ‘read together’. If we just stare at our phones or laptops, then throw a book and ask them to read, reading with joy and ‘learning’ would never happen as it should be. It can even be ‘cooked’ as we learnt from another story included in the article.

  • Nhung Nguyen

    I have been concerned about the negative effect of children’s early exposure to technology and mobile devices such as smartphone or tablet and I do believe that books are much more beneficial to children. Prof. Ingrid’s article, moreover, has raised my attention to an important, interesting issued that I have never noticed before: the way we improve our children’s literacy. I really appreciate the point made here that parents can unintentionally make reading which would be an enjoyable activity into punishment.
    The two observations of using touch-and-feel book and letting children play in the library themselves make me wonder what the appropriate parental involvement in young children’s exposure to literacy is. It seems that the adult should be a companion to share the joy of reading with children instead of insisting on assigning them sets of readings that are supposed to be “must read”. In this case, taking children’s perspective in deciding what to read might be an important thing.

    Ngoc Thao Nhung Nguyen

  • Yeongju Lee

    This article is very interesting since I have observed the same issue through my life. Since I started learning Engish when I was 6 years old, I’ve always wanted to speak like a native speaker. I went to a few private institutions in Korea to learn English, using books. I learned speaking from those institutions and whenever I learned something new, I always made some notes and underlined, trying hard to memorise such language knowledge. However, after I moved to Canada where I went to the high school, I realised that my speaking got imporved so much and very fast. I talked a lot with my friends, as much as I could and I realised that I’d already started copying my friends’ words, expressions, and talking styles without intention, which is totally the opposite way that I had learned in classrooms. I thought I studied hard to improve my speaking skills from inside the classroom, but actually I could learn and imporve my levels a lot more from outside of classroom.
    As mentioned in this article, a lot of mums try to educate their children and they tend to focus more on books and study, sitting on chairs rather than letting them play with their friends and learn from them or bringing them to real places where they can learn something new through physical games such as playground, zoo, or aquarium.
    However, as I experienced, somtimes learning in the real world helps a lot more for us to learn something and they actually leave bigger traces in our brains.


    This article makes me believe that early reading is beneficial to the development of children literacy. Although tiny children who are 1 to 2 years old cannot read letters in books, they may be able to have fun and feel interested through visual images, sounds or various textures. I believe that these reading experiences can grow children’s literacy. Additionally, reading can be important time that school children at from elementary to high school can develop their literacy. Based on my school experiences, reading time were included before starting first class everyday.

  • Dee

    I agree with the sentiment of the article, that prescribed and contrived experiences are at odds with current educational practices of allowing children to learn through exploration and play.
    This article resonates with me at this time as I have a pre schooler and a child in kindergarten. We have interacted with books everyday since my children were infants. For instance, I would ask my children to describe the pictures to me; some days I would read the words on the pages other days the children and I would talk about the pictures. Now that my older child has learnt how to “read” at school; she has developed a greater appreciation for books. She reads to her younger sibling he “reads” to her (though it’s evident he has memorized what the older sibling has modeled). The siblings are demonstrating Vygotsky’s theory of how children learn through co operative play. As a result of this, the pre schooler has developed greater interest in books and will explore books on his own. Whilst I can’t answer the question asked in the article, I have witnessed preschoolers develop an interest in books/reading without the caregiver taking a “utilitarian” approach to learning.

  • Thi Lam Tra DINH

    I do believe that reading would benefit child imagination development when they could draw their own pictures in their minds of what was written. I also think that multimodal reading materials would encourage the reading habit. When I was young, I just read comic books rather than full-letter-page books. Touch-and-feel books could be interesting when it can be combined with certain functions which help those with short time span of attention. In addition, with the guidance of seniors, these books could be the very first steps of get used to reading.
    I do agree that children need their parents or carers’ assistance to develop reading habit so that reading can become a joy. I have two children and started to tell them fairy tales and stories when they turned two. After telling a story, they could answer several questions to check comprehension. I read books for them at the age of three. My reading books to children became an indispensable part of bedtime, and rewards for every good thing they did were a new story. When they could manage their reading on their own, I just choose books and sometimes check if they read on the right track or not. Therefore, early exposure to reading would nurture the joy of reading.

  • Dhanisa Kamila

    This article about reading is very interesting. To me, reading has been a very joyful activity and I have loved to read since very little. My fondness of reading was not forced by my parents, they simply encouraged me to read by taking me to the bookstore every month and gave me the freedom to choose any kind of book to buy and read at home. I got to choose which genre or topic of book I would like to read and to feed my curiosity. The freedom they gave me was quite a big influence to my reading likeness because it made me feel like I had my own control and authority for my readings and I felt independent. For a child, this kind of feeling is quite important especially if you want your child to actually enjoy what they’re doing. The problem with parents nowadays, with all the modernity and technology that make everything easier, they tend to control and monitor every single aspect of their children to make sure that everything goes well and perfect. This could actually be good, but some parents just went too far and somehow kind of forcing their children to learn/read something without actually considering whether their children enjoy it or not.

  • Thi Lam Tra DINH

    Your posting reminds me of the memorisation of picture books. My child was really keen on a story name “Tich Chu” told by her nursery teacher in words. I took her to a book shop one day, I was totally surprised when she picked up a book and said: “Mom, this is “Tich Chu” story”. She could not read and write at that time though. This incident gives me the impression that words could be “drawn” in one’s minds, and words and pictures can convey the same messages in certain ways.

  • Pizza

    At one point in my childhood, I remember gravitating towards the touch and feel books as they were quick and fun reads at the time, however, this did not diminish my interest in reading actual books. I remember being more interested in the actual stories that books provided, rather than the physical experience of feeling different textures. I don’t think a touch and feel book is the only way to learn about how something feels. There are many examples in the real world.

    I agree with exposing children to books as early as possible, as I think a joy for reading is fostered at an early age. I believe we should convey to children that reading is about discovering new stories or being able to imagine different worlds rather than a perfunctory way of becoming ‘smarter’ or ‘academic’.

    Instead of using smartphones, if parents bring their children to the library, they should be involved in their children’s search for new books to borrow, for example, recommending books that they believe to be both enjoyable and fruitful in their child’s reading experiences.

  • Kaniz Rahman

    From the childhood we were taught that reading is fun, it is supposed to be fun. However our education system made it an obligatory job rather than willingness. This article reminds me of my school days when we had a mandatory period called “library” and we were supposed to be observed by the teachers but our teachers always asked us to read our course books during that time! I must confess I never loved that class, rather I enjoyed reading Harry potter in the class hiding from the teachers.
    Everyone should be exposed to the vast world of literature without any pressure and get the chance to experience the immense bliss of reading.

  • rehan

    its avery interesting article. i have also read the comment below of Yeongju Lee and i would like to agree with the participent view that now a days in the modern era the access to the books and the reading habbit has been cut down. its not because we can’t actually access them but the fact is that we dont find ease in reading books. i would like to narrate two stories. yesterday in the class i saw a book of a student which was related to one of our subjects and was quite expensive. she mentioned that the book was alao available online. on asking the reason to buy she told that we cant highlight the material on net cant make our books dirty even if you borrow from library.
    its true the books are expensive but the other things are cheap education is becoming expensive now. thats why most of us don’t do readings and also because of the limitations. i would agree with Yeongju idea that its not necessary that we have to sit formally and then read books. its been like 10-15 years that i use to read atoriws if tarzan, herculees and other such heroes like super man. i used to read almost 50 pages at that time. when i was in 5,6 standarad. and i still remember some of the stories. because i use to read them while lying on the bed before going to sleep. but i might not remember some writings of John Milton and Shakespeare and Chauser etc that i studied 3 years back. the only fact is that reading is being converted to an obligation not an interest. technology also plays a vital role in that as everything is available online.
    i have lot to say but becuase of the word limitations i would have to stop. alas

  • salmat

    This article resonates with me, as I have a 7 year old son with dyslexia. To support him in learning to read, he does intensive phonics sessions, which often involve repetitive activities such as flashcarding sounds and re-reading phonetically difficult words. He also has to spend a lot of time reading school readers – something he finds very difficult. As someone who loves reading, I worry that the way he is learning to read is going to impact on his enjoyment of it over time. I hope to encourage a love of books by reading to him books on topics he is interested in – and eventually his reading skills will allow him to take over!

  • Eleonora Beolchi

    How parents can educate children to reading books has always been a question mark for me. This article brings me back to my primary school years when I noticed a classmate of mine being very dedicated to reading books, considering our young age. I remember I thought that her parents must have been regular book readers because if we start from the assumption that all kids are new to a practice, how can they get close to a habit if not by modelling their parents? This at least was my idea when I was about 10.


    Reading and writing are not our culture in Papua New Guinea. (PNG) Traditionally, learning was via oral mode and elders in the know were regarded as experts of what they presented. Historically, many of our knowledge and skills were unfortunately lost as the person in the know passed on and there were not written. Learning to read has been a challenge in my learning journey. I began reading books in high school. In the early grades reading was done through imitating the teacher. Due to lack of resources some schools even in the present lack reading books relevant to different levels/ages. Libraries are only found in bigger cities. Bulk of the population live in remote areas and haven’t had access to reading books. So the best teachers would do is to write short stories on the board and they have shared reading sessions. In situations, where there isn’t a library or a class set of reading books, what could be done to inspire students to develop the passion to read as it is very essential?


    This article has resonated with me as it identifies the priorities some parents have when it comes to their students’ literacy such as chatting with other parents or playing with their smart phones. Reading and writing need to be made as interesting as possible which is vital in early childhood. Children need to enjoy and to identify with what they are learning in order to be stimulated and acquire proficient literacy skills. Furthermore, our children who will one day take over the reins of our societies, must gradually come to understand the importance of literacy skills as life-long assets.

  • Flora Launay

    Thank you for this very interesting piece of READING.
    When I was a child, I did not like reading. I prefered maths and numbers. However, my mum had tried her best to make me enjoy books: she would read me a bedtime story every single night. I used to love these moments, and yet it did not make me like reading later on. Not that I was not good at reading, I was actually a very good reader and had high grades at school. However, I did not enjoy it at all. To me, reading was simply a school homework among others that I had to complete for everyone to be satisfied.
    I strongly believe that children should not be forced to read. We all know that the more one asks a human being to do something, the less likely they are to do it. We should let the children discover books on their own and encourage them in a positive way. Comments such as “To be smart, you should read more” or “If you can’t read properly, you won’t have a good job” defeat the purpose.

  • Khalid

    Interesting article. I think most people nowadays focus only on how to develop their children’s literacy without thinking of the suitable way of doing that. Making learning joyful is a great method, especially for children. Parents can exploit the interests of their kids to help them developing their literacy since early stage. For example, they can take advantage of the new technology such as ipad or tablet to develop the literacy of children through learning by games, puzzles or other ways that mix learning and reading in their daily habits.

  • Binisha Sharma

    This article is really appealing. When I was a child, my dad had tried his best to encourage reading habit. Reading stories or poems from English book was like every day task. And I enjoyed it a lot. However, my sister did not enjoy it.

    Children actually should enjoy learning process. They should be free to choose what and how they want to read and certainly they will be good at it. Plus, teachers and parents need to help children read using different techniques including both who like to read as well as who don’t.

  • Ha Pham

    this is a wonderful discovery. now I realize how important it is for children to get access to books as early as possible because this will help the children shape their future reading hobby and I express my strong disagreement with the mothers mentioned in the article. they cleaned their children’s hands whenever the children toughed the books. this can make the children get to consider their actions as ill-mannered. this is completely wrong. I also dislike mothers letting their children play with smartphones at an early age because it will harm the children both mentally and physically. that is my opinion.

  • rajni jaishi

    A coherent piece of writing which makes a powerful point about the importance of introducing reading as an activity among young children and at the same how it is a challenge for parents to do so in their fast-paced life. I absolutely agree with you when you say that children must be guided well and drawn towards reading in a way that is pleasant to them.
    I too think that nothing can be compared to books when it comes to letting our imagination flow and nurture creativity. Since this is an age of computers and smart phones, it’s easier for children to adapt to digital ways of learning which can ruin the pure joy of reading from an early stage.

  • Dwitiya Nugrahaeni

    Hello, Professor

    It is indeed true that many parents nowadays seem to force their kids to read. Their involvement in this process is somehow too little or too much. Parents taking their kids to a public library while keeping themselves busy with their phones is a very common thing to see. One thing that I noticed once was parents’ too-much involvement in their kids’ reading process. I saw this 4 or 5-year-old kid was opening a children’s book with pictures in it. He moved from one page to another randomly, seemed to try to find pictures that he liked. His mother, surprisingly, forced him to read it in order, from page one, two, and so on. I saw that this is also one example of making reading a tedious activity. Parents’ involvement is indeed very important in children’s literacy development, but they must also be aware that their kids’ interest in reading is built from the feeling of joy and excitement while doing it. It is therefore very essential to grow this kind of feeling since the very early stage of the children’s literacy.

  • MeganLouise

    The insight that this article gives on the area of child literacies is something I had not considered when I initially read the heading for it. I definitely think that by the Mother continuously cleaning the child’s hands after they touch a “touch-and’feel” book that it is not giving the child an accurate understanding of what these different textures are, given that they are not in real life environments, rather, they are in a book. This is because (for example), if the child were to touch something that has a rough texture, like a rock, in the real world, he wouldn’t have his mother cleaning his hands every time he touches a rock. I do also, however, see this from the mother’s point of view; probably just being cautious of all the germs that can be found in child-friendly environments and wants to ensure her child does not get ill from any germs. But I personally find it way too over the top and unnecessary — I definitely did not have my mother doing this for me when I was a child! In relation to literacy and the educational aspect of this practice, it is definitely not creating a “fun” atmosphere for the child — a key part of being a child is getting a bit messy and dirty!

  • Ulfath Sadia

    The article is very interesting and fascinating to me. I can recall my childhood days, when my father used to take me and my sister to the Ekushey Book fair and used to ask us to choose the books we want. We always used to buy the comics as the pictures were appealing. At first, I started with looking at the pictures but later started to read the books as well. With time, books became my life and I agree with one point of this article that parents can encourage their children to develop their reading skill. On the other hand, I believe that the development of the reading skill should be spontaneous and pleasant, and parents should not force their children to read as it might make the process tedious rather than being enjoyable.

  • Reem

    I strongly agree with your point of view Prof, Piller due to the essential need of reading for children nowadays in Australia or all over the world. However, the parents and caregivers have to realise the importance of certain appropriate ways for making kids experience reading with fun more than promptings . According to Prof,Ingrid piller, reading is a social practice (2017). As a result, everyone could achieve success by applying the multimodal literacy in a particular way. For instance, technology, whatever it could be, is absolutely the best way for making kids learn with no limits and interact with their fellows in my opinion.
    Kind regards

  • Meera Panthee

    This article is really interesting as it appeals all the children to read books. This is in fact true because those who have reading habits always seem content and possess an adequate knowledge of vivid spheres of society and life. Reading books brings youth in people making him/her a ready person. These days, most if the schools are adopting the thematic, creative and comprehensive teaching paradigm known as progressive education which is highly essential and indispensable so as to cultivate reading habits and establish notable improvements in education in an experimental way. Children should be made to read through observation, survey, field visit and choice of their books, but not through interactive and digital reading at all the times.
    The pleasure of reading is more immense than reading something in the screen because a book always stays a book whereas any device can quickly turn into a television program or any other games

  • GlobalMikeW

    Like all childhood learning, the attitude of the parent is as important as the content itself. I suspect that the mother you referred to who was obsessively wiping her child’s hands after each page of the ‘touch and feel’ books, carried this same behaviour into other areas of her child’s life, thereby communicating that “life is dirty”, extended beyond just books. That being said, without the context of knowing exactly WHY the mother felt that way, I think it’s unfair to form any judgement on her behaviour. What IS clear is she took an interest in her child’s learning and was actively engaged with the reading that was taking place. This is in stark contrast to the later example of mothers simply taking their children to the library and then leaving them to their own devices which for me, is a far greater transgression of responsible parenting.

    Naturally, not every child is going to enjoy reading, but the opportunity to become more literate is enhanced when the parent brings a passion to the way books are presented. In my own case, my Mum read to me every night when I was growing up, and her love for not just reading, but the time spent with her son, ensured I developed a love of stories that I’ve carried all my life. Later, through my teens, I was a voracious reader, and again this was encouraged by my parents who bought me books for birthdays and Christmas and always wanted to know what they were about. I have tried to carry this same sense of commitment into my relationship with my own daughter, and whilst she doesn’t have the same love of the written word as I do, I know she still values the time I put in to being with her. What I’ve come to realise is that yes, books do allow the expansion of minds across time and space, and provide a chance to see through someone else’s eyes, but especially in early childhood, the eyes a child most craves to see through are their parents’. Books allow this to take place in a way that is magical and reading should be considered one of the most important gifts a parent can give their child.

  • JZzzz

    I can’t agree any more with many points in this article. Especially, when read about “what will children actually learn from practices such as those described here? That reading is a matter of duty but also something dirty?” It reminds me of a story about how the Jews cultivate their children’s interests in reading during early childhood. It is said that the mother will drip a little of honey on a book and ask her young child to taste it. In this way, the child will likely to develop a sense that knowledge is as sweet as honey. There is no baby-wipe or sanitizer to kill the joy of reading. We don’t know whether the Jews still do this today but I think this story conveys an idea about the importance of appropriate guidance in children literacies.

  • Mustaqim Haniru

    The context described in the article clearly showed the crucial role of parents or caregivers in promoting reading habit and influencing children’s attitude towards reading. In my country, Indonesia, especially in my hometown, which is located in eastern part of Indonesia, the role of parents to establish reading habit towards kids was not truly apparent (at least at some cases) due to some contextual factors. This include the lack of parents’ awarenes towards the importance of reading, their dependence towards school to enhance students’ literacy, low-level of literacy, limited reading resources, expensive books, and low level of income. These issues resulted in students’ low interest on reading as they mainly read only for school purpose such as to do well in exam and not necessarily to gain extensive knowledge and information. Hence, in my context, the issue is not merely about establishing the sense of joy in reading, but also factors such as parents’ awareness, parents’ competence, and accessible reading resources that could hinder the essence of promoting reading habit at the early age.

  • Jo.

    I could read from a very young age, and my parents have always encouraged me to read as much as I can. They would stop in front of every store on the way home from school just because I wanted to read the banner. They also tried to answer every question I had after reading anything. When I was in primary school, my most favourite place was the bookstore nearby. I could spend hours reading all kinds of book at the children section. There were no monitoring or instructing. All that the store staff did was putting a chair at a corner everyday for me. Sometimes they would even discuss the books with me.

    In the most simplistic sense, what my parents and the store staff did was to tell me ‘reading is good’. Although the sources of book was considered “safe” for my age back then, I still got the freedom to select what I want to read. From my own experience, I strongly believe that the love for reading is planted and nurtured from an early age, with the support from the family and the local community. It should not be a tool for the society to control what the children should do or think. More importantly, reading should not just be a silent conversation between the child and the book but continuous conversations with the world around them.


    From my personal experience with my 3-year-old niece who really enjoys being read to, it’s more about the personal connection and interaction between her and the reader than about what the books are. She chooses her own books under her mother’s supervision. The example of children library in the UK definitely does not involve much interaction since the mothers just let kids loose. I think in order to make the activity more enjoyable for the children and less boring to the carers, the carers should actively involve in the selection of reading material while still maintaining the perceived autonomy of the children. It’s surely a delicate but rewarding balance.

  • Brendan Kavanagh

    Let those kids build up their immune system. Help them to wash their hands after they have finished at the library.

    This reminds me of my life teaching in China, where the educational model was very much based around a “utilitarian duty that is all about school-readiness”. Learning was highly test-focussed and based around mechanical methods of ROTE learning.

    However, having learnt to read the Chinese logographic script myself, I can also understand that it does require a great deal of memorisation. Unlike a phonetic script, you cannot just get to know a few graphemes and then develop fluency through guesswork. To me, the approach I encountered in China also seemed to wield higher numeracy outcomes than I have experienced in Australia.

    The downside to this approach was the lack of creativity and critical thinking, which is essential for high levels of literacy. The approach also doesn’t gel that well with language learning in general, as language is a social tool. I now work with adult Indigenous learners in remote communities. Despite having vastly lower levels of formal education, the Indigenous learners have much higher levels of English fluency and proficiency than those that I have worked with in China. This has been achieved not through intensive study and memorisation of grammatical rules, but through the occasional interaction with English speakers as they enter the community.

  • Phoebe N

    This article is truly appealing and it is so true about the importance of reading. In Vietnam, we have an idiom which means that the more pages you can read now, the more money you can earn in the future. Thus, parents tend to let their kids expose to as many books as possible at the early ages with the expectation that their will achieve good learning results, and then, undergo a better life in the futures. However, despite the essentiality and benefit of reading books, we should also focus on the way inspire and motivate them to read because they only can learn something if they read with their interest, curiosity or even passion not by the requirement of parents. This reminds me of my 4-year-old nephew. As his mother, after dinner, always tries to teach him the alphabet in one hour despite the fact that he spends almost the whole day at his kindergarten. This leads him to the tire and even fear of learning. Now, whenever he sees the books, he tends to throw them away. As a result, personally I think, reading is a good way of learning but how to create the enjoyment for kids in reading is much more important and needed to pay more attention.

  • Long leg

    I absolutely agree with the idea that early literacy is beneficial for children. It could support their success at school. Therefore, many parents try to create more opportunities for their children to approach to books. Children’s imagination and creativity could be gained via books. But that’s the story since a quite long time ago. Recently, the development of technology is somehow killing the joy of reading in children. Instead of reading a comic book, children in modern world frequently stare at a smart phone or a tablet which more vivid and interesting. Therefore, children gradually become more passive and obese. That’s so sad. Their parents should encourage their children get out of these kinds of high-tech devices but reading book and participating in out-door activities which can enrich their soul and improve their health.

  • MonyCRole

    What has been stated in the article is quite agreed as reading is actually neither a task that children must finish nor a habit that is cultivated by children themselves alone.

    Reading should be the lens for children to explore where they look at and have a further vision. On the contrary, if parents try to set reading as a task and force their children to have a broad view, children might consider reading a routine mission and gradually lose interest in it. Anyway, helping children gain interest in reading and curiosity to what interests them is critical when parents intend to motivate children in reading.

    Besides, many researches show that children tend to take their parents as the role models and imitate their behaviors. To encourage children to read more, parents may need to involve themselves in reading since their children have the tendency of replicating their attitudes towards reading and then doing or thinking as they do.


    It reminds me one of top news some time ago. A young kid had participated in a reading activity held by the primary school but was asked to quit. The reading competition planned to offer the kid who read the most books a first prize. The kid was forced to read the book by the parent and had read more than 10 books within 2 weeks, which is obvious after the purpose of winning the prize. The school decide to ask the kid to quit because it is not their intension and they wish the kids can notice the fun hidden in books and gradually develop the habit to read.

  • 44209150

    Honestly, I have never seen”touch-and-feel” the books before because the books for kids I have ever come across so far are mainly paper comic ones. The insensitive action of the mother at Sydney bookstore unintentionally gave other people a view of the disadvantage of “touch-and-feel”books due to public bacterial hand contamination. This post also reminds me of the current situation in my hometown where parents try to familiarize with literacy acquisition at the very early age. Actually, building up the reading habit for kids at the young age is a good idea. However, the main point emphasized here is that the carers should let children have access to reading materials and facilities such as ipads or tablets in a proper way, not like two examples of the above-mentioned mothers. Children should be given opportunities to develop their interest, imagination and creativity through coming into contact with the well chosen reading books. Plus, reading books to kids should also be a good way to establish the reader and kids connection.

  • vy ha

    Reading article reminds me of a little boy I used to babysit who read children books out of pure joy. I remember when I first met him and his parents, I noticed that they didn’t actually brought him to the library or anything but bought him a lot of books about animals and allow him to watch documentaries about them as well. Over time he develops a fascination toward nature and the animal world. He expressed that kind of love to his dog and later adopt a pig.

  • Katherine Douglas

    My first impressions of books probably happened when I was under 5 years. Something I enjoyed was walking into the local library with my mother, noticing the smell of books, and the feel of them turning the pages. Reading the stories always took me to new worlds and places, but no one wiped my hands, or the pages of the books as we went.

    I understand that caregivers want to take care of the books, and children do make messes occasionally. However, if they spend more time wiping books, won’t children associate books with cleaning, rather than enjoying reading uninterrupted? And consequently, they are turned off from reading for fun?
    Letting children experience reading as a joy and a privilege is important, especially when they are young. Yes, they should try to take care of their/other’s belongings, but home and libraries are just that – not museums trying to preserve books forever. If there are a few marks here and there, but the child is engaged with a book and enjoying themselves, I think that’s the main thing.

  • Kyungmin Lee

    This article made me look back at my childhood. I was not the one who was really keen to read or was easily fascinated by any kinds of books. As my older sister had read all the books collected on our shelves, my parents thought I would do the same thing some time soon and never wanted to give up on me. However, the pressure of extensive reading from my parents did take my interest in reading itself. Unfortunately, I started to find it interesting to read quite late in life. When I first knew I am also able to read for fun, it was later than 18 and in English. So I, contradictorily enjoy reading books in English while I cannot in Korean. I still think what if I had not been forced to read earlier in my life. Indeed, it must have affected my literacy proficiency considerably.

  • swati sharma

    It is good to keep your child clean and dirt free, but i feel that the children should be left free so that they become nature friendly. As a psychologist i have seen parents being over protective for their children which results that children do not have the confidence to face the real world alone. So through this article i would like to aware all the parents that please set your children free right from the beginning and make them nature friendly because nature is that mother which teaches us many things which the parents and the teachers can not even teach at any stage.

    Secondly, I have also noticed that reading books has somewhere lost its charm among the children with the advancement of the technology. Earlier the children used to read the story books, cartoon books or their text books, newspapers. But now even the course books are in the form of e-books, cartoon books have been replaced by the tv shows, newspapers by the news updates on the phones.

    I remember that in my school one period was the reading period, in which we were supposed to bring a book of our own choice and read it. This school practice developed my reading habit. This same practice should be done by every school so that children develop the habit of reading books again. This will not only develop their reading skills but will also enhance their knowledge and will also keep them away from the electronic gadgets for some time.

  • Hayu Austina

    My friends and I experienced assisting an 8-year old boy who became totally blind when he was 6. The primary schools in his village will accept him with one condition: “He knows how to read and write in Braille alphabets”. Instead of forcing him to learn Braille alphabets, we read some children storybooks for him. He enjoyed listening to the stories. One day, when he was taking a bath, we heard him acting out some parts of the stories. From that time, he always asks his mother to read books for him. We believe that these are parts of his learning process before he is ready to learn Braille alphabets.

  • Nancy

    This article reminds me of my experience with my 4-year-old brother. I used to get him to sit still on my lap and read some stories from a children’s book. It is important to note that all stories are written in English- which is not his mother tongue. After 5 minutes, he got bored and refused to listen to the stories. At first, I thought lack of English language proficiency and “not-so-joyful” reading method inhibited him from enjoying the stories. Therefore, I decided to choose another book which was full of vivid images and just had a few words and encouraged his engagement by pointing at the pictures and asked questions, with the hope of provoking his interest towards the reading and the language itself. However, the situation remained unchanged. After that, I realized that each individual is different. One method which can be considered suitable for one person may not work with the others. Therefore, it is imperative to acknowledge individual differences to find the most effective learning strategies.

  • Gin Parrish

    Perhaps, children, especially toddlers, tend to learn better by playing and interacting with the objects, stories and real people. For example, they can learn about different kinds of plants and animals by seeing, touching them, listening to their sounds; they learn languages by imitating and interacting with their parents and siblings.

    Therefore, I suggest that there are other ways to make literacy acquisition become a more engaging and meaningful experience, such as through storytelling, bed-time stories and making scrapbooks. Parents can enrich their children’s experience by giving them more control over their learning, for example, letting them hold the book and turn between pages, name things in the pictures, mimic the sounds of animals, finish the end of some sentences or guess what will happen next. The parents can also encourage and help their children to make their own scrapbooks, where they can later on write down some basic words and sentences.

    To sum up, I believe that early reading should be all about having fun, and the parents should view it as a great opportunity to have bonding time with their kids, as well as a great way to develop their children’s cognition, imagination and literacy skills.

  • Roxxan

    Thanks for the open-minded post. With the technology developing, books are no longer the only way to gain information. Comparing with the high-tech products such as smart phones, television, computer and radio, books becomes less popular among adults. As parents are the best teachers for children, it may be difficult for children enjoy reading books when their parents seldom reading. Furthermore, as Chinese primary education is only to cater the demand of examinations, reading for students in this level can be regard as a necessary behavior to pass the exam. When reading becomes an activity that students have to do for exam, how could these students enjoy when they reading?

  • zhao valencia

    After reading this post for the first time, i went to the public library in Chatswood, Burwood and Top Ryde to conduct my own observation. To my surprise, this topic has never occurred to me before. I always relate young kids with noise, crying, and crawling around on a mat. I was shocked how much patience and meaningless repetitions the mothers was doing and I told myself I would never ever be like that. This is a waste of life. Learning happens naturally, everywhere, every moments. It exists in each interaction with the people, the surrounding setting, along with the natural elements. From my perspective, the bed-time story serves much more significant role in early literacy teaching.


    This post reminds me of our stance and its problems in terms of reading a book and transmitting the joy of reading to our children. When I was a kid, I remember, my mother used to take my brother and me to a bookstore to pick out a book to read on every children’s day. Even it is hard to remember for me when it was the last time that I felt the texture and myself that fells into the story as I passed a page of book. To pass down the joy to our next generation, we should not forget the joy of reading first.

  • Ka Ho Lawrence HO

    Dear Professor Piller and fellow classmates,

    Learning through play is well recognised as one the most effective way to learn. After reading this post, I did a mini online research on how learning through play can help English learning from journal articles. I found a journal article which include some interesting findings. Jin et al. (2014) investigate that with proper teaching strategies and adapting learning through play appropriately, students’ motivation towards learning English can be further enhanced. It is because students are delighted and excited in acquiring English through this way. This can also cultivate students’ interest in English through reading, as it is a compulsory thing we need to do every day.
    I would like to share one of my own personal experience here when I started learning English: my nanny who brought me up showed me flash cards with pictures when I was 14-month-old. I still remember I was attracted by those diagrams and I love learning English since then.

    Just some thoughts,


    Jin, L., Liang, X., Jiang, C., Zhang, J., Yuan, Y. & Xie, Q. (2014). Studying the motivations of Chinese young EFL learners through metaphor analysis. ELT Journal, 68(3), 286–298.

  • MB24

    Thank you Professor Piller for a fascinating article. What I enjoy most of all about reading to my young children is the laughter they spontaneously erupt into as I read a particular passage they find funny. I do understand the pressures of doing your utmost as a parent to ensure your child succeeds and part of the difficulty is a lack of insight into your own parenting approach. Clearly, the way a parent parents their child is critical for the child’s development. Hopefully children who do not experience a joy of reading from a parent have other avenues to gain a joy of reading.