Reporter Sonya Bateson is a self-confessed bookworm.

There's an ever-changing pile of novels on her desk. During lunch she props up a book as she eats. Growing up, her mother had to prise the book out of her hand at dinner time. Such was Sonya's appetite for words that she'd sit at the table reading nutrition labels on sauces until she could get back to her beloved books.

So we were not surprised yesterday when Sonya returned from reporting on the Tauranga Rotary Club's Easter book fair, with a large bag of books.

It's no coincidence that Sonya often wins newsroom quizzes, has a depth of knowledge of obscure facts, and is an Olympic standard speller.


University of Auckland's Wayne Cutfield has said one in three New Zealand children do not meet standards for reading in their first year of school. He is director of a new $34 million scheme focused on child literacy, mental health and obesity.

Although the likes of Snapchat and Instagram still engage children in literacy, I believe nothing beats books to develop emergent literacy skills, to educate and ignite the imagination.

It is challenging in a digital age to foster a delight in books. Some kids might dispute Marcel Proust's claim that "no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favourite book".

My family is constantly tripping over my piles of novels around the house. But to get my kids to pick up their books I have to unplug the modem.

It is encouraging then that crowds flocked to the book fair this weekend. The sale serves a valuable community purpose by recycling books to a new readership. Proceeds support literacy projects such as Duffy Books and Dictionaries in Schools.

We should all encourage children to read more. Not only for the educational benefits, but because reading makes us better people, more understanding, intelligent and tolerant.

As novelist Philip Pullman says, "We don't need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don'ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever."