A little literary magic
Very often, the difference between a mediocre reader and a great reader is all down to one simple ingredient – the discovery of that magical book…
Let me explain. Usually, up until the age of seven, reading is nothing more than a chore to be endured by our children. They enter formal school at four or five, and for three solid years, teachers and us parents spend hours every week attempting to persuade them that deciphering complicated coding on a page, really is one of the most joyful activities known to man.
For ages and ages, they simply don’t believe us – and it’s not difficult to understand why. How many times have you coerced an unwilling and wriggling little bottom into sitting ‘just a little longer’ in order for it’s owner to read ‘just one more page?”
How many times have you encouraged your children to sound out and blend their words so that their practice leads to fluent reading instead of a jerky, staccato leaping from one word to the next?
How many times have you coerced them into ploughing through yet another school ‘reading’ book which is quite frankly, so boring, that as a parent you are yawning by page 2?
How many hours worth of bedtime stories have you read to them, in the hope that your own enthusiastic storytelling will – by osmosis – somehow develop in them?
And yet, even once they’ve grasped the concept of reading – and can race through the pages in next to no time at all, the love for this wonderful pastime still isn’t a foregone conclusion.
Children must fall in love with reading
Why? Because until Cupid’s literary arrow strikes, your child will never fall in love with books. Your child will always be that person who can read, but doesn’t really enjoy the process. They can’t see the value of losing themselves in a book filled with adventure and wonder. And they certainly can’t comprehend the fact that people who love books cross the boundaries of time, space and reality, without ever leaving their armchairs.
The key to the kingdom
That first book is so much more than just a romping good read. It’s the key to a kingdom. And that is why it’s so important to discover it. The real ‘first book’ – the one your child can’t put down when called for supper, the one where he or she keeps sneaking the light on past bedtime to finish – that book is a magical doorway to the land of literature. It opens your child’s mind to an infinite world of incredible imagination…
My very first book was The Pole Star Family, by Enid Blyton. I can still remember the sheer delight of realising that I was actually flying through those pages – and loving every second of it. I also remember my father, coming into my room at lights out time, and listening to me excitedly tell him what I’d discovered. Wise man that he is, he left me to it, and said he wondered if I’d have finished it by morning? I had – and that night a bookworm was born.
For my hopelessly dyslexic little brother, it was the wonderful JK Rowling. He gobbled up those pages with an insatiable hunger. My mother was so relieved. After years of him struggling to read with any competency, suddenly he just couldn’t stop.
A few years down the line, and my own son, also grappling with dyslexia, found his key to the kingdom in the form of Roald Dahl and David Walliams. Just last week he scored 100 per cent in his recent school book quiz – something that would have been unthinkable a year ago. This achievement for him was momentous, and will, I am sure be the first step towards academic confidence and success following years of frustrating struggles. You see, he now realises he can do it. And he’s just as good as anyone else. And it’s all thanks to that magical first book…
So, now you know what the key is, the tricky part is in finding it. But here are a few pointers that might help you on your way.
Read aloud to your children from the cradle, and don’t stop until they really don’t want to hear your stories any more. And you’ll discover that it doesn’t even matter it they are on the brink of ‘too cool for school’ teenagerdom. Once you open that book and start reading, they will come and listen, and will even unplug themselves from the latest trending app to do so.
Visit bookshops and libraries
Scour bookshop and libraries with them in your free time. Make acquiring books a fun pastime that’s part of your weekly routine. It doesn’t have to be expensive as secondhand stores offer a brilliant range of thumbed through tomes, while the library membership is even more reasonable – and it’s certainly lots of fun.
Be a reader
Read yourself. You can’t expect your children to develop a love for literature if you are never unplugged. So lead by example. Talk to your children about why you love books. Tell them about how you first found your love for reading. Encourage them every step of the way through your own relationship with literature.
It doesn’t matter what they read as long as they do it a lot. Encourage reading everywhere you go, from road signs to seemingly banal comic books. Don’t try to force authors on your children. Just because you enjoyed the adventure, doesn’t mean they will. Once they read fluently, finding their magical book will be oh so much easier, because they will be open to reading independently. It is through independent discovery, and putting a lot of fun books in their path, that will lead result in cupid striking.
Cut out the iPad
Limit their time on electronics and instead build ‘reading time’ into your daily routine, be it an hour after school or that 30 minutes before lights out. Children love routine and thrive on it. Once the initial protests are over (about a week in) they will happily hunker down in bed with a pile of books.
Love the arts
Appreciate the arts. My children always get so excited by a trip to the theatre to see a show adapted from a book they’ve loved. From The Tiger Who Came To Tea, to Peter Rabbit and to George’s Marvellous Medicine, that reinforcement of the story enacted live on stage is like experiencing their imaginations in technicolour. Read the book to them before the show, and talk about it afterwards. Very often you’ll find them going back to that favourite story on the shelf with a brand new perspective and passion.
Have fun. In the immortal words of the wonderful Roald Dahl, “When you grow up and have children of your own, please do remember something important. A stodgy parent is no fun at all! What a child wants – and deserves – is a parent who is sparky…”
*Joanna England is a mother, journalist and former editor for Time Out Kids Dubai