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Can't get your kids to turn off Netflix and pick up a book? This author has some tips

Balance screen time with page time, says Emil Sher
Award-winning children's author, Emil Sher, speaks in Sudbury May 2 about getting kids to read for pleasure. (Supplied)

If you're having a hard time getting your kids to turn off Netflix or put down their video game controllers in favour of reading books, award-winning children's author Emil Sher has a few tips for you.

“I always say, go for balance,” he said. “I don't say banish the iPods or the screens or anything like that, just make sure you don't only do screen time. Make time for page time.”

If a particular YouTube video has grabbed your child's attention, try to find them a book about the same subject.

“Watch a video, but realize there's a whole world a book can take you into that will enrich your understanding of that video,” Sher said. “I would argue that reading will enrich your screen time.”

Sher is in Sudbury May 2 for a workshop on getting kids to read for pleasure as part of Reading Town Sudbury. The event takes place starting at 4:30 p.m. at MacLeod Public School.

The other guest speaker is Sudburian Judi Straughan, a retired educator who will share her experiences as a grandmother.

A biography on Sher's website said the author writes “for the young and once-were-young.” His debut young adult novel, “Young Man with Camera,” was published in 2015 and has received numerous awards and honours.

His board books, “A Button Story” and “A Pebble Story,” were listed among the Best Books for Kids & Teens 2015 by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre.

Among his plays for kids is the stage adaptation of “Hana’s Suitcase,” the Holocaust children's book by Karen Levine.

He doesn't just write for kids. Sudbury audiences may recognize him as the author of the play “Mourning Dove,” inspired by the legal case of Robert Latimer, staged by Sudbury Theatre Centre in 2015.

Sher has also worked with STC to workshop his new play, “Conviction,” about disgraced Canadian pathologist Charles Smith.

If you'd like to raise avid readers, Sher advises reading to kids starting when they're babies. Pre-schoolers often have books memorized long before they can read, he said.

“Sometimes you try to skip a page, and they're on you like a dirty shirt,” he said.

Because you're going to read that book to them 1,000 times, make sure it's well-written, he said. 

“I think it makes no difference if you're writing for a six-year-old or a 60-year-old, I think they deserve the best type of story you can tell,” Sher said.

When kids get a little older, bring them to the library and pick out books geared to their interests, he said.

“Absolutely bring them there, and they will find something,” Sher said. “There's too many stories out there not to find several that a child will respond to.”

So why is it important that kids — and adults for that matter — read for pleasure? Sher said it widens their lens on the world.

“We'd live in a saner world if more people read,” he said. “I honestly don't think Donald Trump has read a book in his adult life. All he watches is cable news. We have to be able to understand the richness and complexity of the world, otherwise we end up sleepwalking through life.”

Learn more about the workshop with Sher on Reading Town Sudbury's website. You can also check out what's going on as part of Reading Town Sudbury here.


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