Thoughts on World Book Day!

World Book Day in Ireland takes place today in Ireland, Thursday 5th March. Over the last 23 years, World Book Day has become firmly established as Ireland’s biggest annual event promoting the enjoyment of books and reading. I caught up with Midlands Science CEO, Jackie Gorman who is a published poet and avid reader (as can be seen from one of her many shelves in the image) to hear her views on the importance of reading and what we can do to encourage it from an early age…

Creating a love of reading for pleasure in children is so important. It encourages a love of learning, provides fuel for their imaginations and provides escapism. What are some of the other scientifically proven benefits to reading and starting at an early age? 

Many studies show that toddlers and young children who are read to every day have a larger vocabulary than those who aren’t read to. Reading enhances a child’s vocabulary and it can help them understand how to read and write, but reading aloud to children also helps them to understand different topics about the world and everyday life. As we grow up, reading can become part of our toolkit to deal with stress. In 2009, scientists at the University of Sussex studied how different activities lowered stress by measuring heart rate and muscle tension. Reading a book for just six minutes lowered people’s stress levels by 68 percent—a stronger effect than going for a walk, drinking a cup of tea or coffee or listening to music. Reading can also help you live longer. A team at Yale University followed more than 3600 adults over the age of 50 for 12 years. They found that people who read books for 30 minutes a day lived nearly two years longer than those who read magazines or newspapers. The benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read more !!

Today’s reality includes a lot more technology than when this important day was first launched. Some children now often prefer to play on an iPad than get lost in a good book. What can we do to encourage a love of reading?

Encouraging reading is important and there are lots of things to consider. Ensure that your children see you reading is the first thing. It doesn’t matter if it’s the newspaper, a cookery book, a computer manual, magazine – anything is good. Lead by example. Encourage children to join in – ask a child to read out a recipe for you as you cook, or the TV listings when you are turning on the  TV. Give books or book tokens as presents and visit the local library together on a regular basis, and enjoy spending time choosing new books. Keep reading together. There are lots of books that both adults and young people can enjoy – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, the Harry Potter series, or The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Read books you can all talk about. There are also great Irish language books now for children such as Harry Potter – Harry Potter agus an Órchloch ! I’m resding  An Leon, An Bandraoi agus An Prios Éadaigh myself at the moment, an Irish translation of CS Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Aside from escaping the pressures of the modern day are there other proven benefits to reading for adults?

Reading can change us a person. A University of Toronto research team asked 166 people to fill out questionnaires regarding their emotions and key personality traits, based on the widely used inventory which measures extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, emotional stability/neuroticism, and openness. Half of the group read Anton Chekhov’s short story The Lady with the Toy Dog, about a man who travels to a resort and has an affair with a married woman. The other half of the group read a similar nonfiction version presented as a report from divorce proceedings. After, everyone answered the same personality questions they’d answered before—and many of the fiction readers’ responses had significantly changed. They saw themselves differently after reading about others’ fictional experience. The nonfiction readers didn’t undergo this change in self-reflection.

The aim of World Book Day is to celebrate authors, books, illustrators and of course reading! What are some of the books on your current ‘to-be-read’ list?

I have a pile in my living room which are to be tackled over the next few months ! Things in Jars by Jess Kidd, Last Witnesses by Svetlana Alexievich, The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting, Mama’s Last Hug by Frans De Waal and Elmet by Fiona Mozley are my immediate priorities. I also use Audible a lot when I walk every day and I’m listening to The Secret History read by the author Donna Tartt at the moment.

 Can you tell us about your favourite science book(s)?

The Flamingo’s Smile by Stephen Jay Gould, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by Oliver Sacks, The Emperor Of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee and Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.

What is your favourite science fact, if you can narrow it down to one?!

Answering the question why the sky is blue is my favourite thing because it’s a question we’ve all asked since childhood. I also like that it was research by an Irishman John Tyndall  which explored and solved this question. He used a simple glass tube to simulate the sky, with a white light at one end to represent the sun. He discovered that when he gradually filled the tube with smoke the beam of light appeared to be blue from the side but red from the far end. Tyndall realised that the colour of the sky is a result of light from the sun scattering around particles in the upper atmosphere, in what is now known as the “Tyndall effect”. He thought that the light scattered off particles of dust or water vapour in the atmosphere, like the smoke particles in the tube, but it’s now known that the light scatters off the molecules of the air itself. Tyndall knew that white light was made up of a whole rainbow of coloured light and thought that the blue light appeared because it was more likely to scatter off the particles. We now know that this is because it has a much shorter wavelength than red light and is much more easily scattered, so to our eyes the sky looks blue.