Cre­at­ing a love of books: chap­ter one

The Jewish Chronicle - - EDUCATION - BY KEREN DAVID

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

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