What Else Can Books Teach Students Besides Reading Skills?October 25, 2021

Halloween was approaching, and Jeremy, the curator of stories brief and sinister, recommended Stefan Bachmann's short stories. He was reading a bush poem (for the third time) when he looked at the librarian. He held a book with a peculiar cover. His curiosity was piqued. And what followed amused you. It was a good distraction from the coursework, prompting you to wonder if books could teach students other than reading skills.

You were quite surprised at your little sister reading "The Heroes of Olympus". She was ten, and you thought that she was too young for teenage crushes, angst and (the bitter truth about) heroism. You were mistaken after you discovered the middle-school mafia, but that would be another story. Jeremy, your coursemate, is a huge fan of Gothic fiction. And he was fascinated by Bachmann's life. An American living in Switzerland, taking long walks most of the time. (Writers like long walks, Jeremy said. You couldn't agree more.) Your mate wondered if Bachmann was in the wrong country (for scary stories), but you surmised that the Matterhorn may remind him of Bald Mountain (in "Fantasia"). This segment, which was too scary during its initial release, was based on the God of the Night in Slavic mythology. You haven't got the chance to write an essay on it, and you sense that your professor won't be thrilled about you suggesting it. (She hasn't seen "The Babadook".) Back to Bachmann, Jeremy felt the hair on his arm rising while reading "Mabel Mavelia". It was about a "skin garden", which made you gulp. (Carnivorous plants?) On the other hand, "Wayward Sons and Windblown Daughters" was set in the English moor. Emily Bronte might dispute its authenticity, but you didn't want to know the details. Yet.

Your teenage years took place during a pandemic, and plenty of global issues stressed out your psyche. (A two-week hotel quarantine would be one of those things.) It forced you to lock yourself in your room, escaping into a book. And you recalled the books you read.

Information Provided by a Nineteen- Year- Old Male

Science fiction can help with imagination and thinking creatively. You shuddered while reading Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", where you closed the book after Chapter 7. You imagined what it would be like living in a world without animals. It was unthinkable, if not terrifying. (You couldn't imagine Australia without the kangaroos, koalas and wallabies.) Many sci-fi tales are set in a dystopian future, and it could turn some locals into environmental activists. You doubted if Greta Thunberg read the book, but you were drifting further. You have to study for an examination.

Contemporary fiction helps to promote emotional development. Your (uppity) cousin once shared a fairy tale about a palace that was longing for its former owners. Four brothers who have different interests, and the spirit (of that palace) made sure that each one lived comfortably - and peacefully. You hardly relate to the story (after looking at your room). Alfresco dining would be a common sight in the near future, due to the pandemic, and you couldn't wait for that day (or the new normal). The tale taught you to tidy up your room. Often. You must prioritise your assignments, so you would do them during the first week of summer.

Mysteries can develop problem- solving skills. Emma Trevayne's "The Book of Bones" comes to mind, about a young girl who couldn't get a good night's sleep after hearing restless spirits pleading for eternal peace. A mischievous sorcerer was behind it, and compassion won't be good enough. Jeremy disagreed with you, as this tale of pluck and dead roses would fit the next item.

Fantasy books can foster memory skills. Katherine Catmull's "Red Raging Sun" was set in a sun-kissed coast resembling the Yucatan peninsula, where remote ruins would lure bored tourists. Dark-haired monkeys and fiery-eyed lizards inhabit a pyramid that reminded you of El Castillo, the largest and most famous pyramid at Chichen Itza. You became quite obsessed with the details, and it would worry you. (Your little sister would be too young for such things, but she read "The Kane Chronicles".) You also remember every detail of Narnia, and you can imagine it in Oz. Your tutor won't see you as daft.

Historical fiction helps you develop empathy skills. Frank Miller's "300" was not the right book for this one, your tutor said. It romanticised the military prowess of Spartans, which they wouldn't do without the slaves. Claire Legrand's "The Cake Made Out of Teeth" could be a long shot, but your tutor warmed to it. (And it was a pleasant surprise.) No one likes a rotten, spoiled brat, and you (and your tutor) could sympathise with the neighbours who have it with Henry Higginbothams. What does Cake Henry have to do with it?

Mirror, Mirror

Jeremy read "The Sandman Cometh" one too many, about Morpheus (or Ole Lukoje or the Bringer of Dreams) who is looking for a successor. And it turned out to be a young boy. He must pass six Herculean tasks, which would expose his true nature. This short story didn't fit any of the items above because the boy would learn to think creatively, develop problem-solving skills, and empathise (with his family). Strangely, the story made you drowsy (or it might be your mate's monotonous tone of his voice). You wanted a distraction, as well as amusement, and you had enough. Reading would wait for another day.

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