Ask any teenage student at a secondary school in Spain if they like literature and the reaction will probably be one of complete disinterest or just totally negative. 

At schools, the L-word is not popular by a long way. It is a synonym of dull, unintelligible, unending strings of words printed on heavy volumes. Names such as Cervantes, Shakespeare, Dickens, Gabriel García Márquez etc sound alien, distant, pre-historic even. Watch out, they could possibly be enemies. Pronounce the word literature, even in an enthusiastic manner, and you will see their little faces drop. 

Does this mean students aren’t reading? It doesn’t sound promising but maybe there’s another side to the story, pardon the pun. 

Many schools in my area have introduced, or are about to introduce, a 15, 20 or 30 minute-per-day reading scheme. The students are in class and a teacher is there with them, so no talking, mobile phones or games. Students have to read! It can be any type of book, comics even. Other teachers in Spanish secondary schools, not just English, say this is on the up and more and more schools are following the scheme. Teachers are always on hand to guide, monitor and help students for whom this may be a brand-new activity. 

During a break recently I was having coffee with an English teacher and this issue came up. I mentioned that around 99.9% of students feared the L-word, so how could they get them to read for a whole, uninterrupted 30 minutes? 

The teacher said that most students do get into the habit of reading (at least during that monitored 30-minute marathon). The key to success has been to give them a gentle introduction: rather than the heavy-going classics or high-end intellectual works, let them go for more light-hearted reading or easy-to-follow plots. This got me thinking: the offer out there is very extensive indeed and there are hundreds of titles aimed at teenagers. It’s a big slice of the market in fact. J.K. Rowling has helped greatly in this respect and many others have followed. Harry Potter is a household name, albeit mainly because of the films, but still, it’s a way into this fascinating world. The HP saga alone has sold a staggering 500 million copies worldwide! Apart from making JK Rowling a multimillionaire, it’s also made a whole generation get back into reading. Many imitators, with varying degrees of quality, have followed in the wake of this, making the world of books an exciting place to be a part of. Cynics out there may point out that some of these writers are hoping to hit a jackpot similar to that of JKR, but in any case, readers will benefit. 

Once the student has had a taste of it, they may be hooked for life. In my day, we generally started with Noddy (my mother tells me I stayed with Noddy and best friend Big Ears for a bit too long), on to Rupert Bear, followed by the Ladybird collection, which has helped millions of British children learn and enjoy reading from an early age, to Enid Blyton’s adventure books, maybe a bit of Agatha Christie and by this time (mid-teens) we moved into which ever direction we preferred. 

So, with a bit of encouragement from parents and the educational environment, good planning, marketing, and exciting books, we may yet have a generation of avid readers who might even enjoy literature. 

Danny Rae 

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