Literature connects us with past and present humanity. Literary reading promotes the language development and thinking that is necessary for an educated, cultural society. It is our job as educators to put all students in touch with excellent literature, especially those books which have the power to change us in some way. A famous writer once said, “Books that transform me as I read, books that go on working in me afterwards when they have become part of me, often refresh and reinvigorate the language.” There are many valid reasons for using literature as the mainstay of a reading and writing program. All these serve to motivate and promote life-long interest in reading. Here are some:
1. Literature allows meaning to dominate. Students read immediately for meaning and view reading as a thinking process. A story that makes sense is easy to talk about and remember. Reading literature helps students to form their own way of understanding and thinking.
2. Literature concentrates on the development of readers rather the development of skills. Students spend most of their time reading continuous text, which allows them to see themselves as reader’s right from the start. Research has shown that reading literature has a great influence in the making of students’ character, view of the world, a way of living and choice of lifestyle.
3. Literature promotes positive self-concepts in students. Because students see themselves as readers of books from the first day of school, they develop positive attitudes about reading and themselves. Regardless of background, apparent deficiencies, and varying development levels, children begin to learn to read with the best of children’s books. That early success and confidence flows into other academic and social areas. By contrast, students who fail to learn to read in first grade can carry lifelong scars.
4. Literature promotes language development. Exposure to the variety of complex syntactical patterns, creative and figurative language, and imagery found in good literature seems to aid comprehension of language in general and to enhance vocabulary development. Since literary language is not generally found in primary readers, popular television programs, or general conversation, it is important that students be saturated with good books in the school environment. In fact, vocabulary and multiple meanings of words are best learned and applied through the context of books.
5. Literature promotes fluent reading. It has been interesting to observe beginning readers reading with fluency from the start. Since the children hear a predictable story as a whole first, and possibly more than once, they come to know phrasing, and they imitate it. Where predicting and sampling are encouraged, they are accustomed to filling in the words that make sense. They do not read word for word even when presented with new material. The transference of reading ability to other books is a highly important factor which gives the child confidence and the ability to read independently.
Literature deals with human emotions. Students relate easily to stories that deal with anger, sadness, jealousy, etc., and they have an opportunity to get in touch with their own emotions in an natural, nonthreatening manner. Students meet characters who have traits like themselves, which makes them feel like an accepted part of the human race. Folk tales and fairy tales teach much about individual longings, conflicts, and failings and can stimulate thoughtful discussion.