Editorial: Summer escapes

Last updated 05:00 19/12/2012

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OPINION: The top prizes aren't always the top rewards.

A tablet and an eReader are the flashest prizes in the Invercargill Public Library's annual Summer Reading Challenge, but the potential benefits for more than 700 young readers who have signed up so far are less tangible and more profound.

Outreach librarian Kirsty Graham says the emphasis of the challenge is not on winning but showing kids that reading can be entertainment as well.

Yes ma'am. Summer's for active pleasures and youthful exercise aplenty but it also affords lots of opportunities to be mentally intrepid as well.

Whether the book's something in the way of light refreshment or altogether more challenging, summer reading beckons pleasingly.

Throughout the school year, good teachers are artfully guiding their young charges towards stimulating reading. And yet, there's something all the more liberating about the truly recreational brand of summer reading that feels a bit like playing hookey from homework.

We're talking about wilful, indulgent reading that captivates the imagination while the body reposes in warmth and comfort.

It's reading undertaken in sun loungers or armchairs and sofas with shafts of sunlight booming through the windows.

It's also the tradition of the bach, the beach, the camping ground and the riverbank, where people eventually bestir themselves because they can't understand how so much time has passed and how late it's become.

It's the late-night sneaky reading by torchlight under the duvet.

And it's fundamentally, essentially healthy.

The ability to read, easily and with pleasure, opens up so many areas for kids, from imaginative escapism to a most natural and agreeable sort of knowledge-gathering.

Books can communicate ideas and emotions on a level that confounds imagery. The late Margaret Mahy said it as well as anybody when she encouraged us that children, in particular, sometimes need to summon up their own images - and that though these may not be accompanied by the blast of colour and sound that reinforces the images on television, they have their own peculiar power, less defined but more mysterious and intimate too.

The library programme is structured so juniors read for 20 minutes every day for 20 days, to be in to win a prize, whereas senior participants write book reviews of what they have read to acquire points.

It's true that, as Ms Graham says, the programme means that there isn't a three-month gap in children and teenagers' reading habits. Happily, it's not simply the case that summer reading prevents a young reader from losing ground gained during school terms.

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It really does happen that kids can return to their next year of schooling having made real strides in their education by exploring books their way, as a legitimate and enjoyable part of their holiday.

We're open to correction from some of our more well-read Southland kids, but wasn't it Lemony Snicket who said: "Never trust anyone who hasn't brought a book with them"?

- The Southland Times

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