Reading Young

Author Tonya Bolden shares her views on what young people like to read and the importance of instilling a love for books from a young age.

As books for children and young adults continue to capture a substantial market share of the publishing industry, many authors are creating unique and interesting works to cater to the needs of this significant reader segment. One such author is Tonya Bolden.

Bolden is the award-winning author of more than 20 books for the young. Her “Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl” has been selected as a Coretta Scott King honor book and also won the James Madison Book Award, among other accolades. Besides fiction for children, she is equally well-known for her nonfiction works. For instance, her “M.L.K.: Journey of a King” has received the National Council of Teachers of English’s Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children.

Bolden, a Princeton University magna cum laude baccalaureate with a master’s degree from Columbia University, visited New Delhi in November 2017 as a speaker for the Bookaroo book festival for children, supported by the U.S. State Department.

Excerpts from an interview.


You are an award-winning writer of non-fiction and fiction books for children. Have you been able to figure out what this audience wants to read, especially in this digital age?

I believe that children today want to read the same kinds of books as children in the past did: books that engage, captivate, take them on journeys, kindle curiosity, tell them who they are and help them to make sense of their worlds.


Do you bring your interest in history to your writing of children’s fiction?

Yes, I am indeed passionate about history. My novel set during America’s Civil War, “Crossing Ebenezer Creek,” is about a relatively little-known tragedy that occurred about 20 miles [approximately 32 kilometers] outside of Savannah, Georgia, during Union Army General William Tecumseh Sherman’s famous march to the sea. I am now at work on a sequel. It is set in the 1870’s and early 1880’s, and sheds light on the period that followed the war, Reconstruction and its demise.


Why is it important to inculcate reading habit from a young age?

It is extremely important to inculcate the habit of reading at a young age at home to stimulate children’s minds, build knowledge and vocabulary, and to introduce young people to the idea of lifelong learning.


Are we losing the habit of reading due to the rise in the popularity of television and the Internet?

I cannot speak for the world, but I do believe that in the United States, the reading skills of many young people are on the decline because of television and the Internet. The problem is not the medium. The problem is the amount of time spent looking at screens. A librarian in the United States told me that children do not retain information from screen reading as they do when reading a hard copy book or periodical.


What role do schools have in encouraging students to read books?

Schools, of course, play an enormous role in encouraging students to read books beyond class assignments. Teachers and librarians are most effective at this when they introduce young people to high-quality, well-written and engaging books of all sorts.


Please tell us about your recent visit to India.

In November 2017, thanks to the U.S. State Department, I had the great pleasure to visit New Delhi during Bookaroo [book festival for young readers]. I was able to interact with creators of children’s books, such as Nancy Raj, illustrator of “Maharani the Cow” and other wonderful books. Equally as grand were my interactions with children during my presentations on history and on people with disabilities.


Ranjita Biswas is a Kolkata-based journalist. She also translates fiction and writes short stories.