I'm hardly the first to notice that public libraries throughout North America have become increasingly hostile to books. It seems at times that libraries are deliberately designed to prevent, rather than foster, the act of reading. High school kids shoot the breeze while doing "homework," mothers and nannies exchange gossip over a cup of Starbucks, computer games — sorry, educational programs — bark out commands and sing inane ditties to three-year-olds with glazed eyes.
So it was with some hope that I greeted Ontario's "Summer Reading Club," now prominently on display at all the province's public libraries. Similar clubs spring up annually in North American libraries. Staffed by high school volunteers, the club aims to provide some motivation for kids faced with two long months of unstructured time. Goals are set. Rewards offered. My four-year-old loves the stickers and tattoos, even though she doesn't have any problem motivating herself to read.
Unfortunately, libraries seem unable to stop apologizing for their practice of dealing in books. And so, despite offering a program devoted to encouraging children to explore the imaginative world of books, they have convinced themselves that the notion is so outlandish, the pleasures so paltry, that the only way they could ever conceivably sell such a ridiculous notion is by getting inspiration from something that has never appeared in any actual book: the comic book superhero. "Quest for Heroes," blares the poster, which depicts a couple of kids wearing the modified costume of Superman, probably the least interesting superhero ever created.
Yes, yes, I know. The graphic novel is an art form. And I actually know people — accomplished writers — who learned to read by skimming comic books. (And let's not forget that virtually all children's books are replete with illustrations, making them kissing cousins of the comic book.)
Yesterday, when I brought my two-year-old to the children's section of our local library branch, I was struck by the scene. There were ten children there, and I was the only adult. Four kids were planted in front of computer screens, playing "educational" games. Two were playing checkers. One was surfing the Internet. Another two were playing with toys provided by the library — my son was busy with the train set. Not a single book was being read. In the middle of it all stood the "Summer Reading Club" stand, with its contest prominently displayed: "Create Your Own Comic Book! Win Prizes!" Is it any wonder that kids find the world of books so unappealing, if adults can't even be bothered to show enthusiasm for it?