Creating a love of books: chapter one
YOU SEE it on Facebook, you hear it over the dinner table. It’s the question on middle class parents’ minds. “How,” they ask, “can I get my children reading?” They know the benefits of regular reading. They understand that, although the future will be digital, reading gives children something that Fortnite cannot.
Children who read regularly do better at school, have larger vocabularies and are more likely to go to university, no matter what their family background is. But also, reading helps children expand their imagination, deal with stress and can help them empathise with others.
In other words, reading makes kids kinder, calmer and cleverer. And the summer holidays are prime time for books.
So, how can you encourage your child to read? I remember summer holidays when I was a kid. Mum would go to the library and come away with a bag full of “mystery books” that we hadn’t picked for ourselves, but could dip into while we were away. There was a real sense of excitement in picking a book to read that day (we were a family of speedy readers).
But if that had been nowadays, we’d have had phones and tablets, with plenty of films and TV shows downloaded. Would a bag of books have grabbed our attention?
Start young, say the experts. Kate Ereira, the librarian at Highgate Wood School, a big comprehensive in north London, says good reading habits should ideally start as young as possible. “I think reading to your children every day when they’re at primary school is really important, as is making sure that they have time to read every single day. Bedtime is the obvious time for it, and it works well.”
“It’s important to share your own enthusiasms and to share books you’ve loved, but also to give your children ownership of their reading and let them make their own choices. I think giving them free rein for half an hour or so in a good bookshop with knowledgeable staff can have a big impact, “she adds.
Diana Gerard, CEO of Book Trust, a national charity dedicated to getting children reading, agrees that reading to small children, especially in the early years, is the way to start. “It’s lots of fun and the perfect time for closeness, cuddles, laughing and bonding. Snuggle up and don’t be afraid to use funny voices: children love this! Also try to encourage little ones to hold the book themselves and/or turn the pages, so they feel more engaged with the process.”
What about older kids? Gerard suggests they can be lured back to reading through other forms of the written word: “Why not try alternatives to story books as kids get older — short stories, graphic novels, comic books, recipe cards (while you’re slaving in the kitchen) — there are so many great options out there to choose from.”
Ereira says: “For older kids I think it’s important to be interested in what they’re reading and to show that you value it.”
I agree that sharing books is very important, especially for teenagers. If you read a book that your child has loved and discuss it with them, it offers a neutral way to talk about important issues. Books can also be a comfort in difficult times. Sometimes the escapism of a romance or a fantasy is just what’s needed when life gets tough.
Of course, some children struggle with reading because they have learning difficulties. Barrington Stoke is a publisher that caters specifically for dyslexic and reluctant readers. Its books are specially designed to ease reading, down to the size and shape of font and the colour of the paper. The books are shorter, but the content is all age-appropriate and they cover a wide range of subjects.
As the author of nine books for teenage readers — the tenth, True Sisters is out with Barrington Stoke on August 15 — the question of what encourages teenagers to read is one that interests me a lot. Pace, good plotting and engaging characters are essential, but just as important is finding the right book for that child at the right time. If you have a good library or bookshop, let your child browse. And online magazines and sites such as Armadillo (armadillomagazine.co.uk), Books for Keeps (booksforkeeps.co.uk) and The Book Bag (thebookbag.co.uk) are useful to keep up with what’s new, as is the Book Trust’s website, which has all sorts of suggestions for developing good reading habits and moving on from favourite authors (booktrust. org.uk).
“I didn’t like reading, but I loved your book,” is the best email any author ever gets. I’ve had a few… and with another book out, I’m hoping for more.
Read a book your child loved and discuss it with them’
Sharing stories in the library at Immanuel College