Literacy is the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realise his or her full potential. Kofi Annan
Secretary General of the United Nations and co-winner (with the U.N.) of the 2001 Nobel Peace prize, Ghanaian born Kofi Annan understood the power and potential of literacy. It is crucial to human understanding in today’s world.
To say that literacy is important to me would be an understatement. I recall, early in life, playing with a heavy set of red leather-bound books called “Journeys Through Bookland,” dated from 1909, that my grandfather bequeathed to the family. I spent hours piling them up like Lego blocks. It was the pictures in them that fascinated me then, but the attraction to the lovely bound tome has remained.
I shot past comics early, and dove into Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. There was an exciting world out there between the pages, and I wanted it all.
Flash forward many years to my own family and imagine my bewilderment when it came to getting the kids to read. They just weren’t that interested. We read to them daily, thinking they’d naturally pick up a book themselves when they figured out the alphabet. Nope. I tried enticing them with comic books, thinking that if comics were a gateway drug to literacy, I might get them addicted. Nope. There were just as good comics/cartoons on the TV and you could sprawl out with your siblings and munch as you watched, no effort expended. At least “Sesame Street” taught them how to spell.
An author and leading voice on childhood literacy named Frank Serafini famously wrote that there is no such thing as a child who hates to read; there are only children who have not found the right book. Luckily, I had low expectations so was not dismayed when Captain Underpants made his debut on our shelves. It did, in a way, transform the family.
One volume came with instructions to readers to change their names according to an intricate alphabet that a certain Professor Poopypants had constructed. We became the Liversniffers. Our children were Oprah, Goober, Crusty and Snotty Liversniffer, and the unlucky head of the family became Dr. Fluffy Liversniffer.
Progress from a small paperback was slow however, until one day, I found the kids glued to a book that changed everything. Harry Potter had arrived and turned on the light.
According to Terry Cleaver, manager of Books & Books, when Harry Potter hit the stands in 1997, children’s literature changed forever. Fantasy became, and continues to be, the big seller in both children and adult literature. Bookshops transformed into places where kids could go and find a comfy spot to read surrounded by games, toys and pictures of their heroes for purchase. Adults could buy their book and then go to the adjacent coffee shop to read over an espresso and bun. Reading was fun!
Perhaps this attitude of fun and discovery is the key that I was missing with my own children. They had to read from math and science books in school that were perhaps a bit weak in the fun department, so why open one at home when all the fun was on TV?
Well, enter the 21st century where the same entertainment evolves from book, cartoon or movie, infiltrates all three and proceeds to lucrative spin-offs in toys, games and even clothes. And that is just the beginning. You can now purchase books with a little something built into them. They transform when you pass your iPhone over them, giving you a talking head. The author comes alive and gives the listener a rundown of just what surprises are in the book, and why he wrote it.
As the world turns…. “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” played at Regal Camana Bay Stadium 6 this summer and since it’s the first epic movie, there very well could be a second one. If there is, you might just see Mrs. Greasy Liversniffer chuckling in the back row.