Children need time to read for pleasure

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The month-long Amor Ekeshey Boimela was inaugurated last week. It is the largest national book fair in the country, for which book lovers wait for the rest of the year. Notwithstanding many odds, it is the most vibrant gathering spot for writers, publishers, and readers. The Bangla Academy, with the help of publishers and support from the cultural ministry, has been organising the book fair for more than four decades, drawing huge crowds.

More than five decades ago, the concept of the book fair was introduced by Sardar Jainuddin and Fazle Rabbi of Bangla Academy in Dhaka, and professor Sharif Hossain in Jessore. Jainuddin organised a day-long children's book fair in Dhaka in 1965 under the banner of the national book centre. Two years later, in 1967, Sharif Hossain organised a week-long book fair in Jashore, the first of its kind in the country. Then in1970, Jainuddin and Rabbi played a leading role in organising a week-long book fair in Narayanganj. Sudhijan Pathagar, a public library in the locality, with support from the national book centre and the National Board of Development for Bangla (which later merged with Bangla Academy), was the organiser.

After the independence of Bangladesh, the first book fair was held in December 1972 on the premise of Bangla Academy in Dhaka. During the commemoration of the language martyr's day on February 21, a few publishers displayed their books on the footpath adjoining the main gate of Bangla Academy. Chittaranjan Shaha of Muktodhara and Ruhul Amin Nizami of Standard Publishers led the display and sales of books in an open public space. Some others also joined them in the years to come. As the number of publishers grew, the demand for an organised event also increased. Finally, Bangla Academy decided to organise Amor Ekushe Boimela in February every year, and the first book fair took shape in 1980.

The brief history of the book fair showed that it was the children for whom the first exhibition was organised 58 years ago! The organisers rightly identified that children need to know the wonderful world of books and encouraged reading for pleasure. Today, the book fair at Bangla Academy has dedicated hours and premises to children, which is a good thing. It encourages guardians to bring their children to book fair and introduce them to books. Thanks to the expansion of online marketing, selling and distributing, it becomes easier to collect almost any book that appeared in the book fair. Thus, it is not always necessary to come and visit the book fair to collect the desired titles.

Nevertheless, encouraging children to read books for pleasure and fun becomes difficult for various reasons. First, workloads of school textbooks have reduced the time for reading books for fun. Besides class and homework, most parents are worried about the results of tests. They keep their children busy with private tutors or coaching centres to overcome their worries. After school and coaching or private tutors, the children do not have any mood to read books of stories or other types. They are also facing the constraint of time. Instead, most of them utilise their spare time to browse the internet on smartphones and laptops. Children are engaging themselves in virtual games instead of participating sports and games. Thus, there is little time to read and enjoy books.

Unfortunately, almost no one cares about the damaging future of the children and the country. A society of anti-book or with apathy towards books is gradually taking shape where a dislike for books and opposition to reading for pleasure and enlightenment will prevail in the long run. Reversing the course is essential. The first step is to allow sufficient time for children to read and enjoy.

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