I recently came across and loved Neil Gaiman's lecture for The Reading Agency about the importance of encouraging reading, ANY reading but particularly fiction, in young children. He says:
"Literate people read fiction. Firstly, it's a gateway drug to reading. ....
'And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.
'You’re also finding out something as you read vitally important for making your way in the world. And it’s this:
The world doesn’t have to be like this. Things can be different.”
He also discusses the importance of imagination, the benefits of ‘escapist’ reading, the necessity of libraries and how the rise of the digital world increases our need for literacy:
“Literacy is more important than ever it was, in this world of text and email, a world of written information. We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuance, and make themselves understood.”
P.S. I loved this little caution: