Arguing that reading is beneficial won’t get young people to read – telling them it is fun will

One of the most pressing problems of the 21st century in the West is that literacy among young people is decreasing. Reading increases empathy, widens the imagination and understanding of different people, cultures, and societies – all important skills for building a better future.

In a rapidly changing world, reading is more important than ever. We need reading to be able to solve the problems of our generation and of the generations to come.

Decreasing literacy is not only a society-sized problem; it is a human-sized problem, too. In the West, a growing number of young people are in danger of getting marginalised because of their lacking reading and writing skills.

It is studied in Finland, for example, that differences in children’s abilities to read can be detected at an early age. Finnish Education Evaluation Centre found out in 2020 that reading was the hobby that had the biggest effect on first graders’ abilities. The more the child had had encounters with texts, the better capabilities the child had already at the first grade.

Many studies also show that reading many benefits. Reading increases vocabulary, empathy, imagination, and self-awareness. Being able to read is the basis for lifelong learning. It is devastating to think that the weakest readers now are not literate enough to study after comprehensive school, let alone to write a job application. The level of our literacy links strongly and indisputably to our well-being. 

In a rapidly changing world, reading is more important than ever.

But try and get a youngster to read by telling them that reading increases their empathy, well-being or imagination. I can assure you are unlikely to succeed.

The Children and Youth Foundation asked 1,500 Finnish youngsters what would help them to read more. One clear result was that they would read more if they found reading of their interest. Only one in fourth thought that reading is ‘cool’. This should not surprise us adults. The result is a good reminder for us that youngsters’ reading, or the lack of it, concerns us all. And we all can be the ones raising the interest in reading in the society.

Reading less has been a cultural phenomenon for years not only among young people but also among adults. Now Covid-pandemic has done some good for the issue – reading is an excellent way of killing time. It is important to note that young people do not live in a vacuum. It matters what the society around them appreciates, and thanks to Covid, it now seems to value reading more than in a long time. We should not waste the good momentum.

Decreasing literacy is not only a society-sized problem; it is a human-sized problem, too.

Advancing young people’s reading must be done in a way that feels natural to them. There are some great experiences of using rap lyrics or spoken word to bring texts to young people’s everyday lives. Chatfiction (a chat-like story that is in a video format) has reached youth that is not interested in a traditional book. Biographies of well-known athletes or musicians have acted as gateways to reading more.

Many video games are based on a complicated story that needs interpreting and understanding of lines – often knowing another language than your mother tonguage, as well. This is all something to consider when we as adults try to come up with ways of encouraging young people to read more.

We tend to do things that we feel are meaningful and that we see others are appreciating too. Therefore, preaching about the benefits of reading won’t work. Instead, we need to value a culture that appreciates reading and encourages it in all its forms.

That is something we are trying to achieve with Read Hour. Celebrating reading by reading an hour together is an easy way to make reading a national phenomenon. Read Hour challenges you to read for an hour on UN Literacy Day on the 8th of September.

The campaign slogan says it all: Read more.

Helena Bross, Stockholm: ”Children’s books are gateways to literature and reading”

”It was difficult for me to learn how to read and write. I did not understand letters, and I was too afraid to ask for help. In the second grade, I was diagnosed with dyslexia. In the third grade, I was moved to a special class that had also other children with dyslexia. They called the class ’a reading class’. My teacher was a very dedicated pedagog who used modern ways of teaching. She had us do fun things like plays, and I noticed that I was great at making stories. That is how I eventually learned to write, and I remember thinking ’This is what I want to do.”

Later I studied to be an elementary school teacher, and my inspiration was my teacher. My classroom was so cozy! As a teacher, I was fascinated by the process of learning to read. I saw my own struggles on many children. Now that I work as an author, I have met a lot of kids on different visits. I always tell them how difficult reading was for me. It is important for the kids to know that adults have struggled, too. It helps them keep going.

Reading and literature should be a part of everybody’s life since early days. Parents should understand how they can help their child’s ability to read. At school, we emphasised to them that children need a large vocabulary in the future, and that vocabulary grows by reading out loud to children. As a parent, you cannot just assume that advancing reading is the school’s priority. Parents have an important role in that, too.

It is important to notice that you are a reader! If you feel like you can read, you will grab yet another book. Reading is something that needs practicing, and you need to read a lot to become fluent. If you are eager and interested in reading, the practice does not feel like work. Therefore, stories must happen in an environment that a child knows and can relate to. That makes reading more fun and understandable. As a writer, you should not focus on writing easy language. Instead, you should focus on writing an appealing story.

Literacy is a lens to different worlds and a way to learn about other people’s realities. If you read books, you can learn about different ideas in present days and in history. Reading allows you to travel to countries you would not have otherwise visited. It allows you to find people who struggle with the same problems that you do.

A crucial part of democracy is that anyone can be a part of news, knowledge, and culture. By reading, you can get your voice heard.”

Helena’s most memorable reading moment:

When I was young, I read Per Anders Folgeström’s Stadserie, ‘City Series’, that takes place in Stockholm. It was a great experience. The story reminded me of my grandmother’s family that lived in the same neighborhood that the series takes place in. They were poor and lived the same kind of life that in the books, so they were fascinating to read.

Helena’s tip for Read Hour:

Create a calm space for reading. Make yourself a cozy corner that has a pleasant light and not much noise. If you have children, read them out loud. You can take turns if you are reading with a beginner; a child will read one page, the adult the next page and so on. This makes the child feel that they are not struggling alone, and you are there to help. With older children, you can both read a section of the same book and then discuss what you read. There is no way you can discuss too much about books.

Heidi Iivari, Tartu: “You’re never alone when you are reading”

“There is a strong culture around reading in Estonia. I believe that it actually strengthened when Estonia was a part of the Soviet Union because books were so cheap. Books were a cultural product that was supported and by reading you could advance your own language. Authors even hid different messages about the Estonian language and people in their books.

Also, children in Estonia read a lot. The school system is based on the fact that children know how to read before they start in school. In primary school, children read four to six short books a year but already in the upper comprehensive school they read eight books a year.

What the children read depends a lot on the teacher. Books vary from Robinson Crusoe to Tolkien. In high school, you move on to Shakespeare and Puškin. They really start reading classics at a young age in Estonia.

Libraries in Estonia are active in organising different reading-inspired happenings and reading challenges. And for example, a local school here in Tartu organises a competition where the pupils compete against each other on who can write the best review for a novel.

The Finnish Institute in Estonia collaborates with Finnish teachers and we organise for example workshops at schools. We also run a hybrid book club and a reading diploma programme for children, as well as organise book raffles and quizzes to present Finnish literature.

Literature in many forms has been a big part of my life for a long time. This autumn, I am publishing my first poetry collection, called ‘The serial lover of Tartu’. It is a love letter for Tartu which is an old, lively, and bohemian city with a rich culture. The whole city has a warm heart, people who are interested in the culture know each other well, and especially spoken word and poetry slams are popular. The experience I have gotten when performing on a stage, and all the enthusiastic feedback from the audience, encouraged me to write my own poetry collection.

However, I have not always been into literature. Especially during high school, I felt I had to find myself. My good friend introduced me to Russian classics, and I instantly fell for them. That led me to German and French literature. I did not know much about current Finnish literature until I started to study literature at Tampere University.

After I graduated, I have had different jobs from studying cultural history to working as a translator. It was an accident that I ended up in Estonia. First, I participated in a Finnish-Estonian literature seminar, and a bit later, I ended up as an exchange student at the University of Tartu. There I had to manage all courses in Estonian. 

I am still on that road. I have been in Tartu for 15 years now.”

Heidi’s most memorable reading moment:

“For me, the most memorable moments are those when you realize that you are not alone. Not alone with your thoughts and not alone with your problems. People have been struggling with the same issues for hundreds of years. Fiction can be a great comforter in difficult and uncertain times. Literature entertains us, works as a therapy, and helps us understand the world. Through literature, it is possible to feel different emotions and have experiences without risking anything in the real world.”

Heidi’s tip for Read Hour:

“Lucia Berlin’s (1936–2004) short stories have been translated a lot recently, and they are brilliant! Her A Manual for Cleaning Women is a modern classic that is full of events. Berlin’s texts are at the same time tragicomic and wild, but also very comforting.”

The President of Finland: "Through books, we may become acquainted with different cultures"

For the third time, the Children and Youth Foundation’s Read Hour Literacy Campaign challenges everyone in Finland to read for an hour on 8 September, the UN International Literacy Day. This year, the campaign will also take place in Sweden, Estonia and the United Kingdom.

Through books, new worlds are opened up to us. We may become acquainted with different cultures and ways of thinking. Moreover, literature shows that people around the world are ultimately rather similar. There are many things that connect us.

Reading can also be communal experience. While we often think that reading happens alone, it can also be done together with others. The reading experience can be shared with a friend or in a group. The same book evokes as many experiences as there are readers.

I encourage everyone to join the Read Hour campaign and read for an hour on 8 September. Let’s take a break and enjoy good books together!

Sauli Niinistö
President of the Republic of Finland Patron of the Read Hour Literacy Campaign 2021

Natalia de la Ossa, London: “You don’t have to be a Reader, but you can be anything you want by reading”

“I ended up being a bookseller by accident, really. I was always fascinated by books because my family encouraged reading a lot. At one point in my life, I needed a job very quickly, and I went into Blackwells that I used to visit, and knew the store by heart. I asked for a job, and they had a Christmas job for three months, and eventually selling books became a full-time career for me.

When I first moved to London then, that was to open a children’s bookshop in South London. I ran that for three years and then moved to my current job at the London Review Bookshop.

I know there is this fear that children will only learn to use tablets, and will never hold a book in their hands. But we see all the time how parents come in and buy books for their kids. Already when I was working in the children’s bookshop, I had great faith that parents would come back and get the books. The parents who grew up with books will pass that on.

During the years I have worked with books, reading has definitely changed. In the last five years or so, there has been a change in reading more about real life: reading about simple, human interaction and the difficulties of relationships. I think this trend has opened doors for a lot of different writers, mostly young female writers. They write about what it is like to be young, what it is like to build relationships and try to find yourself.

Lately, there has also been a lot of talk about diversity and finding ‘the other’ in the books, not only finding the story of white people. And we have seen a lot of people looking for diverse authors, and we try to give them that. We try to find writers from all over the world and promote them.

I am now trying to read more Latin-American writers that I read as a young woman and have already forgotten. I try to find those books in Spanish. Nowadays, I find it a bit difficult to read in Spanish, though. I’m Costa Rican, and I moved to the UK in 1991, so my reading Spanish is a bit rusty.

I absolutely think that literature can make a change. It is vital that children from all backgrounds can see themselves in the literature, in the books that they are reading, and in those stories.

Learning to read and paying attention to what you read will teach you so much about life. It will open creativity to find what young people want to do and how they will cope. I think the most important thing about reading is that it opens your mind. You don’t have to be a Reader, but you can be anything you want by reading.”

Natalia’s most memorable reading moment:
“I was probably around 25 at the time I read Thomas Mann’s the Magic Mountain, and that for some reason stayed with me. I don’t think there was anything particular going on at that time but the beauty of the language stayed with me. I remember I did not want to stop reading. My first big book was Three musketeers when I was 12. It was huge! I remember loving it.”

Natalia’s tip for Read Hour:
“Tomi Adeyemi’s two books: Children of Blood and Bone and Children of Virtue and Vengeance. The third book of the series should come out at the end of this year. I keep chasing the representative of the publicist, and he keeps telling me he can’t send me the book because there is an embargo, and I keep asking for a proof copy. The books are that good!”

The Social Media of Dreams: What youngsters wish from future social media

The survey is part of the co-operation between the Children and Youth Foundation and TietoEVRY against hate speech and cyberbullying. The aim of the co-operation is to improve interaction on digital platforms and thereby increase the wellbeing of young people. The co-operation has resulted in, for instance, the Polite Type font, which corrects hate speech automatically and makes youngsters think of their choice of words.

Are we raising kids for a future that never becomes?

Education and career counselling always reach for the future. This being said, it is confusing how little we discuss what the world we are preparing the children for will look like. During the last five years I have had the privilege of getting to know and sense megatrends, trends and quiet signals by myself, and in mentorship of many amazing professionals. During this journey, I have had the painful realization that we are lacking foresight, imagination and ambition when it comes to education, career counselling and working life.

When talking with other professionals working in the field of career guidance and counselling, I have noticed that counsellees seem more and more anxious about figuring out where they could find a secure job and a decent salary. As the hockey-stick curve of change seems to be accelerating year by year, it is getting increasingly hard to encourage and pacify the youth in these conversations. For example, the development of artificial intelligence opens unimaginable possibilities. On the flip side, this realm of possibilities also means that the future is more ambiguous than ever before.

And yes, cultures and ways of life have been revolutionized before. In fact, researchers have found that the supercycle of change lasts 200–300 years, when societies move from relative equality to a very polarized condition and back to the square one. But I dare say, that changes in our everyday life have never happened at the speed that the fourth industrial revolution is advancing and in so many frontiers simultaneously. Climate crisis, digitalization, robotics, automatisation, artificial intelligence, internet of everything (IoE), biotechnology and machine learning are not science fiction anymore: those are shaping our societies and everyday life

Even the ever popular professions such as doctor and lawyer are up to big changes. Social robots, automatisation of the health industry, increasing amount of personal biological data, remote diagnostics and organ printing are phenomena that will most likely revolutionize the social and health sector during the next ten years. AI paralegal called Ross has been working alongside lawyers for years already, helping them with research. 

One thing is certain: we have only taken the careful first steps of the AI era. And as computing power grows and technology advances exponentially and the fear of the next global pandemic accelerates the initiative to automate human jobs, we will have to learn to run with the change faster than ever before in history.

Before we continue this thought experiment of a jobless future any further, it is important to make a clear distinction between work and job. When I talk about work I’m referring to adapting, developing, building and making life meaningful for ourselves and others. Work in this sense will not go extinct, but it will take new forms. Jobs for humans, on the other hand, will decline drastically or even perish all together. Now is the eleventh hour to understand this and deal with it.

If you google “jobless future” it becomes apparent that many see this kind of scenario as a thread. But why should it be so? Despite masses of unemployed people the productivity of companies and well-being of countries can still rise in the era of the fourth industrial revolution, within ecological limits, of course. Naturally, this means that we have to react to the changes happening in time and in a right way. In the best case scenario, in the jobless future we will still get food on the table, a roof on top of our heads and to enjoy quality products and services while doing the stuff we dream of doing instead of sitting in those boring Monday morning meetings.

In fact, paying people money to do the work they do so that they can buy stuff made by others is historically a rather new concept. Societies have existed before the invention of jobs as we understand those now and will continue to do so after the revolution (given that we don’t screw up ecological crises big time). But the question remains: what kind of values and structures these post-jobs civilizations will be built upon? And what is the role of education and career counselling in this equation?

As Tristram Hooley, Ronald Sultana and Rie Thomsen well put it, “career is not just a synonym for the time we spend on the labour market selling our time to the highest bidder”. Planning a career is also about planning a life: what will be my ways of coexisting with other people as a part of the global ecosystem? In this sense, public is very personal and societal revolution is also revolutionary to our identity work. What are we going to built it upon, when our job and profession won’t be the defining characteristics anymore? 

An acquaintance of mine told me that they realized how job centered the Finnish society and, as a result, us Finns are while traveling in Cuba. There nobody started their introduction by telling about their titles or educational certificates. They talked about their families, hobbies and things that interest them at the moment. As devastating as the effects of COVID-19 are, the pandemic has also forced us to try a new way of life and made many to stop and to think about the things that bring them joy and their role within their community from a new perspective.

Think about this for a while: what do you normally tell about yourself when you meet new people? And what remains to be told if we take away your work or study role? Who do you see when you look into the mirror then? This is going to be a huge cultural and societal shift and individual crises for many. How do we as parents, career counsellors and educators prepare the children and the youth for this? What kind of tools for self exploration and identity work do we give them that are not connected to finding a degree programme and a job most suitable for them?

Ideally a job is not only a way to make a living. It is also about making yourself useful for others and finding a meaningful way to connect with the community around you. This leads us to wonder: what will be the bases of meaningfulness and interconnectivity in a jobless future? The question we all need to ask ourselves is: how can I advance the happiness of others and the flourishing of the world around us? These questions about meaningfulness are already painfully current for all of those left unemployed or laid off due to the pandemic.

The President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö: "At a time like this, the experiences delivered by reading and books are important"

The Children and Youth Foundation’s Reading Hour literacy campaign, which is being organised for the second time, challenges us to spend an hour with books on 8 September, UN International Literacy Day.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, we are living in exceptional times and our daily lives have changed in many ways. Especially at a time like this, the experiences delivered by reading and books are important. At best, a book can be like a much-needed moment with a friend or a journey into a new world.

Reading also has many other benefits. It develops our ability to think and express ourselves. The better we are able to share our thoughts with others, the better we will be heard.

I encourage everyone to take part in the challenge, and I wish you rewarding moments with the book of your choice!

But, of course, let’s read at other times as well.

Sauli Niinistö, President of the Republic of Finland, Patron of the Read Hour literacy campaign 2020

Only one in four young people consider reading cool - Read Hour challenges Finns to read for an hour on UN Literacy Day

“Literacy is celebrated in Finland at the turn of August-September. We are still one of the nations where people read a lot, but the latest PISA survey again raised concerns. As many as one in eight young people graduate from primary school without adequate reading skills and over 60 per cent of boys said they only read if forced. The result has deteriorated from the previous measurement,” notes Olli Alanen, Director of the Children and Youth Foundation. 

The Children and Youth Foundation is organising Finland’s largest literacy campaign, Read Hour, for the second time. This year, the main partners in the campaign are the bioforestry company UPM, Moomin Characters and Pikkujätti Medical centre for children and youth. Municipalities and cities in particular have also been challenged to join. Third sector organisations and a large number of media companies are also involved. 

Sauli Niinistö, President of Finland is the patron of the campaign as last year. 

Only one in four young people consider reading “cool” 

The Children and Youth Foundation asked 1,500 young people about their reading habits to support the preparation of the campaign. The views on reading vary a lot. Only a quarter of respondents considered reading “cool”. In addition, they said they would read more if they found more interesting topics to read. 

“Fortunately, about half of the young people who responded to our survey thought reading was useful and more than a third thought it was a good pastime. We hope that the Read Hour campaign will strengthen these notions,” says Alanen. 

Read Hour campaign between 31 August and 8 September 

The partners and many cities and municipalities will organise various events during the campaign. For example, a library bridge is illuminated in Turku and the Finn Family Moomintroll is read multilingual in Vantaa. All kindergartens, schools and upper secondary schools will also hold a reading class on 8 September in Vantaa.  

UPM volunteers will lead a discussion about their meaningful books in virtual lessons in secondary schools all over Finland. The campaign culminates in a national reading hour on 8 September at 14:00. 

For further information: 

Enni Sahlman, Communications manager, The Children and Youth Foundation,  

tel. +358 40 760 2541,     

UPM’s concept for employee volunteering:  

Kaisa Vainikka, Manager, Social responsibility, UPM, tel. +358 400 382 843,      

Moomin Characters  

Moomin Characters Oy Ltd is the official copyright manager for Moomin characters. All Moominvalley characters are registered trademarks worldwide. Moomins are one of Finland’s largest export products and have a global fan base. Tove Jansson (1914–2001) wrote and illustrated nine novels, four picture books and hundreds of comics about moomins between 1945 and 1970. Books about bold and adventurous but family-centered moomins have been translated into more than 55 languages ​​and are still being printed around the world today.

Moomins have enjoyed international acclaim since the 1950s, when original Moomin cartoons reached tens of millions of readers worldwide. Later, the Moomins have delighted people on several continents through animation series, theme parks and plays, for example. There are more than 750 Moomin licensees around the world. Tove Jansson founded Moomin Characters Oy Ltd in the 1950s together with her brother Lars Jansson to manage Moomin copyrights, and it is still a family business. Rights and Brands is the company’s global licensing agent. |  


We deliver renewable and responsible solutions and innovate for a future beyond fossils across six business areas: UPM Biorefining, UPM Energy, UPM Raflatac, UPM Specialty Papers, UPM Communication Papers and UPM Plywood. As the industry leader in responsibility we are committed to the UN Business Ambition for 1.5°C and the science-based targets to mitigate climate change. We employ 18,700 people worldwide and our annual sales are approximately EUR 10.2 billion. Our shares are listed on Nasdaq Helsinki Ltd. UPM Biofore – Beyond fossils. 


The Pikkujätti Medical Centre for Children and Youth operates six pediatric stations with nearly 190 paediatricians, specialists and other specialists specialising in children’s health care Pikkujätti is owned by 50 medical specialists and is a member of the Aava Terveyspalvelut Oy / Aho Group Oy. The company is Finnish-owned.