Books are a world unto their own, diverse and enriching every volume reveals something different to its reader.

In this guest article by award-winning children’s author, Michelle Worthington, we look at the effects of social distancing on our children’s reading habits and how to create a more inclusive and diverse bookshelf for them to explore!

Books have always come in all shapes and sizes, so reading is reading, no matter the medium.

Bookstores across Australia have shown a rapid increase in the sale of cooking and gardening books as well as adult fiction, especially crime, thriller and classic fiction, but kid’s books are a different story. While chapter books and Young Adult have been flying off the shelves, picture book sales have plummeted. Most picture books tend to be gifts, but with birthday parties cancelled and people not able to see each other, there were less opportunities to buy them. Favourites are also normally read over and over again, but learning from home has affected emerging readers, with parents less likely to read together after a day of helping with allocated schoolwork.

School children are seldom given the choice for what, when and where to read, which is why older readers have flourished. By giving your younger child a choice outside of school, it will allow them to understand that there is a time and place for texts that serve a purpose in an educational setting, as well as books that are read purely for enjoyment. With my five-year-old, we start homework with him choosing a book for us to read from the bookshelf which I have stocked with everything from non-fiction to chapter books. Reading together has long been known to foster carer-child bonds, but it also shows him that I am fully invested in him at that moment in time, and homework seems to get done a bit more smoothly. It also has the added benefit that if a bedtime story doesn’t happen, I don’t feel so guilty because we have shared that connection at a time when we were both engaged.

Having books available for a child of any age that they are interested in, not only ones at the reading level they are ‘meant’ to be, is important to build literacy and language in their own time and at their own pace. Learning to interpret a story from the pictures independently from the words is an important skill in critical thinking, so wordless picture books are a great idea. They won’t be as afraid to give books a go and you will find they will naturally choose reading over other alternatives.

Reading is meant to be a way of connecting, not only to the world around us, but to worlds that only exist in our imagination. If you child prefers to read graphic novels, comic books or even listen to audiobooks, that is totally ok. For all its intrinsic educational value, reading is entertainment. Fun online reading games, reading apps and read along YouTube videos all have their place in modern literacy.  How can we expect children to grow up to be lifelong readers if we place restrictions on the mode that engages them the most, whether it be paper or screen? There is room for both. Books have always come in all shapes and sizes, so reading is reading, no matter the medium.

About the Author

Michelle Worthington is an internationally published award winning author of empowering picture books. Sharing her stories with children all around the world is an amazing privilege. With modern technology making international connections a daily occurrence, she can skype with kids at an international school in Beijing, then read stories to a group of kindergarten kids 5 minutes from home.

Michelle believes that picture books can change the world. When you write from the heart, anything is possible. Two time winner of the International Book Award for Children’s Hardcover Fiction and finalist in the USA Best Book Awards and Book Excellence Awards, Michelle also received a Gellett Burgess Award for Children’s Literature and a Silver Moonbeam Award for her contribution to celebrating diversity in Picture Books.

Michelle is the director of Share Your Story Australia, an organisation of industry professionals supporting aspiring authors reach their dream of being published by empowering and educating them with the business of storytelling.