Schools may provide library hours and possibly have a good collection of books, too. But an informed librarian who can guide children choose books and help them discover their tastes in reading is what will make the needed difference, say experts.

At a function organised in the city recently, noted children's author Anushka Ravishankar said that when children are forced to read either by the insistence of teachers or are challenged by peer pressure, they do not necessarily grow up to be voracious readers, or book lovers.

“Every child is unique and would have a different taste in books, it is not right to expect all children to like the same kind of books, without acknowledging individual interests,” she points out.

In some sense, the responsibility of introducing children to books and making sure their interest remains healthy and alive, seems to be on librarians. Sudha Suresh, vice-principal, primary section of Vidya Mandir says good librarians are those who know what books children like. “But with just 40 minutes a week allotted for reading in the library, it is difficult to expect librarians to keep a track of every student's reading habits.”

Lending common books to an entire class based on assumptions and trends about tastes in books seen in children of a particular class and gender are often wrong, experts say. This is where a librarian, who introduces you to a world of reading that one may cherish, plays an important role.

Apart from librarians, language teachers, many feel, make a difference. “While teaching a chapter on Holocaust, I suggested that my students read Anne Frank, and showed them her book. It was not surprising to find at least ten of them flipping through the pages of the book later, wanting to give it a try,” says Ms. Suresh.

Vasantha Balasubramanian, principal, D.A.V. Matriculation Higher Secondary School, says it is important to make the library a “colourful place” that allows for following up on one's reading with interesting activities. Giving the same book to a group of five children, she cites as an instance, and then asking them to stage role plays based on the characters will help them be better readers. “The librarian needs to be approachable too. He or she should go to classes periodically informing the children about the latest arrivals in books and so on,” she says. Visiting children's book fairs, she adds, also help librarians understand children's taste.

Pauline Gomez, who teaches primary sections in Church Park, says that it is important for teachers who knows the students to interact with the librarian about the tastes of the children.

Encouraging children to maintain a pocket diary to write notes about the book they are reading helps them make the hobby of reading a habit, she says.

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