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How Reading Helps to Build Character (1)

Much to the disbelief of those who know me now, I was a very timid child. Luckily for me, I had my books; and reading was an intrinsic part of our family life. Though it is a widespread view that I was exactly the sort of child to hide behind words, it is a cliché I would like to steer away from for the sake of this blog.

The image of the shy, bookish child as a delicate outsider; academically clever yet incapable of integration, can be problematic. Certainly for me, it wasn’t true. I was, and still feel, very much a part of the world.

I am a firm believer that, whether introvert or extrovert, reading teaches us all to integrate, communicate well and sit firmly in the driving seat, enjoying the fantasy world view from the right-hand window, and the real-world view from the left.

Books assimilate every child into the world they live. Through reading, children are permitted to laugh aloud at garish, ridiculous characters like The Twits by Roald Dahl, in a manner that would be considered rude in reality. More often than not, these characters are merely an exaggeration of reality: neighbours, strangers or family members a child could easily have come into contact with at some point in their lives. They are funny because they are recognisable.

Books not only give children a platform to laugh freely at whom and what they want, but also push them to confront their own oddities; as in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Here, their foibles are celebrated, good-humouredness is encouraged; and the oddball is pivoted as the unwilling, unlikely anti-hero. We laugh with him, we laugh at him; but we’re all in it together.

[To be continued...]


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