Books let us escape from current life woes. They let us explore other worlds and other times. But did you ever think about the things we learn without realizing it, the things we can apply (consciously or not) in our own lives?
The Most Important Thing a Child Should Be Doing
When a child reads a book they view it as a type of mirror world—as if by magic they become the main characters, living and breathing in that character’s mind. Gender holds no boundaries when it comes to this mirror world. Whether they are a boy or a girl, when they read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, they become Harry Potter. When they read The Lightning Thief, they are Percy Jackson. The mirror world is not only beneficial to children because they get to learn about new places, but they get to experience emotions and situations they otherwise might not get to experience. The mirror world is why reading is the most important thing a child should be doing.
Recently I read a fantastic middle-grade book entitled, Wonder, by R. J. Palacio. This book is about an eleven-year-old boy named August Pullman (Auggie) who was born with mandibulofacial dysostosis, a very rare facial deformity. The book is written in first person so you really get to see into the mind of Auggie and how much others struggle with his face. People cringe, shy away, even scream when they see him. As I stepped into the mirror world and saw things the way Auggie did, I began to feel things I have never felt before. I was suddenly more aware of how I spoke to others and how I treated them. I wanted everyone to feel important. So often children don’t see how their looks and words can hurt others. One of the best lines from the book is: “… sometimes you don’t have to be mean to hurt someone.” Empathy is learned in the mirror world.
The mirror world can not only help children learn to feel what others go through, it can help children overcome fears and challenges. Bullying is something that happens all the time and there’s not much parents and teachers can do to stop it. The best way to extinguish the problem is the victim empowering themselves. The mirror world can do that. I was ecstatic when two years ago I received an email from one of my readers who had been dealing with a bully issue at school. They said after they read about Kaelyn’s experience in The Dream Keeper they felt they could stand up to their bully. Reading had empowered them and their problems with the bully went away. They learned to stand up for themselves through a book! I think that’s amazing.
As parents, as teachers, as librarians, as human beings, we should be encouraging all children to step into the mirror world and embrace the magic within. Share with them good books that made you “feel” something when you read (yes, that means YOU should be reading too). The more they experience the better they will be able to deal with the world around them and understand the people within it.
Thanks, Mikey, for sharing your insights!
I’ve lived with this mirror world for more than 50 years – even as an adult, I learn about life situations. I can even identify with a character so strongly that I pick up his/her speech patterns! But I’ve learned so much through books that carried over to my real life – empathy, history, coping with my own problems – that I don’t know who I would be without the books that I’ve read.
I think that the take-away is that a child is never “just” reading – it really is one of the most important things they can do.