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Of books and reading

Can you still remember the first book you’ve read? As for me, it was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll which was given to me by my mother, Imelda. I was 6 or 7 years old.

But it still is vivid to me how I reacted upon seeing and touching the pages of the book that was filled with colorful drawings that made reading each leaf exciting. Delightful and mind-bending.

That is how I will always describe this 1865 novel that remains to be pure magic for both young and old readers. From that day on, I knew I was going to have this lifetime love affair with books, stories and storytelling.

Mystery Reader. Yasss! reading a short story to more or less 600 elementary students of ABES II in Bacolod City as part of the National Reading Month.*
Left: School Principal 1 Jenelyn Macitas and the faculty of ABES II.*

My late Dad introduced us to books early in our lives. He always impressed upon us the importance of reading when it comes to deepening and widening one’s vocabulary, sharpening the intellect and improving memory. What I loved about reading is that it allows us to go to places, real and surreal, and leave us with enriching experiences at no extra cost.

This interest in books and reading heightened when I entered the university and became a campus journalist. Everyone in The Tolentine Star, the official student Publication of the University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos where I was part of, were all voracious readers! Everyone had a book either inside their bags or in their lockers or desks. And part of our regular conversations were updates on our recent reads from Robert Ludlum, John Grisham, Sidney Sheldon, Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Khalil Gibran and many other authors whose books were and still are worth reading to this day.

We would exchange books and would scour second hand book shops for bargains as cheap as P50 apiece. We all knew that to be a good writer, one must read, read a lot! It is because reading does not only expand one’s imagination but it also one’s ability to reshape her writing in unexpected ways. And, it helps keep the brain active.

That is why I am always delighted to see Millennials, Gen Z or Zoomers and Gen Alpha in bookstores and those who carry books wherever they go. The sight makes me smile and gives me hope that reading is not an activity that is nearly becoming or is already unpopular to the younger generation.

I am talking about books and reading today because November is National Reading Month in the Philippines. Since the Department of Education launched the program in 2011, the celebration has since focused on not just simply reading but on reading comprehension.

I was among those privileged to have been given a chance to be part of the Read-A-Thon in Andres Bonifacio Elementary School II in Bacolod City as part of the Reading Month.

I and other invited mystery readers were assigned to read a short story to Grade 4, 5 and 6 students on a particular day. We also shared to the students our love for books. The activity aims to foster a reading culture among young learners.

Grade 5 Teacher Caroline Sedayon admitted that one of the biggest challenges public school teachers are facing right now is how to motivate learners to read and improve their comprehension. “In the case of ABES II, our students are coming from low income to zero income families. Most of our learners do not have easy access to books, so it is very challenging for us teachers to encourage them to read, help them understand the stories and value the lessons,” explained Sedayon.

Aside from literacy, numeracy is another area of concern for grade school pupils in the Philippines as revealed in the results of a joint research funded by the Australian government earlier this year that emphasized the need to improve the basic education system amid a pandemic.

Dr. Marie Therese Bustos, director of the Assessment, Curriculum and Technology Research Centre in a media briefing, June this year, stressed in a media briefing the importance of focusing on foundational competencies in literacy and numeracy. She specifically highlighted the importance of improving reading and math skills, citing international assessments which showed that Filipino learners are lagging behind counterparts abroad.

According to ACTRC, when students learn math early on “translates to better chances of success in school and life while being able to read is crucial to developing broad literary skills which will help children successfully participate in the society”.

That first book I received as a gift when I was a kid, the succeeding books that I have read and the stories in them I have marveled at, all played a great role in my development as a child and as a professional later on. Reading is not only a stable source of information throughout one’s life but it also assists cognitive development or how an individual perceives and thinks about the world in reference to his intelligence, reasoning, language development and information processing. Developing empathy is also among the greatest benefits of reading to human beings. Studies reveal that when a child reads a book, he puts himself in front of him which allows him to develop empathy as he experiences the lives of other characters and can identify with how they feel based on what they are going through.

As a quote puts it, my wish for every child of this generation is to be able to consider being “between the pages of a book as the most lovely place to be”.*

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March 2023

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