Posted by: Elen C | January 7, 2011

Reading and Me

Unless your computer has been buried in sand for the past two weeks, you can’t help but have seen the furore about Booktrust.

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be another blog about defending book charities; there have been some great ones already. Instead, I’d like to look at one of the accusations that has been levelled at authors who have spoken up during the debate. It has been suggested that authors’ interests in reading programmes is mercenary; that we want children to have access to books in order to line our own pockets.

Not only is that accusation based on a very limited understanding of how much money there is to be made in writing for children (i.e. very little), it completely ignores the fact that writers are also readers. For me, it is my love of books that prompts me to defend them.

It is easy for fluent readers to forget how difficult it is to learn to read. It is also easy for fluent readers to forget that there is a big difference between being able to read and reading for pleasure.

I remember that particular difference well. I grew up in an English-speaking household. However, at the age of 3, I went to a Welsh language school. It was at school that I learned to read. Initially, the text we learned from were brilliant; I read Ifan Bifan and Jac Y Jwc with glee.

And then we moved on to chapter books. Yuck, yuck and thrice yuck. I was forced to wade through a series of dire retellings of dull myths and legends. There was a seemingly unending stream of medieval saints, long-dead kings and other Celtic ephemera that had me sitting at my desk, staring into space willing reading time to be over so that I could do something more fun like chewing off my own leg.

For the first two or three years of being able to read alone, I completely couldn’t see the point of my new skill.

And then, like the Red Sea parting, like Heavenly hosts singing, like angel dust sprinkled on fairy cakes, I was given A Good Book. I was given a copy of James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. It blew me away. Finally, I got it. Finally, I learned that reading was a creative act; by doing it I created whole worlds to lose myself in.

I have never looked back (though I’m afraid I do still look at books of myths and legends with suspicion).

It is that magic that I want to share. It is never obvious which book will ‘switch on’ a reader. Which is why I believe that every child should have easy access to a range of books. Be that from libraries, Booktrust or schools. Because, without that magic many more children will be sitting in classrooms wondering what’s the point?


Responses

  1. This is a wonderful post. I completely agree!

  2. My day job used to be teaching dyslexic children, and for many of them, reading was just such a chore as you describe. But then suddenly something would work. I remember one bright but very bored young lad discovering Harry Potter – it wasn’t just a light going on but the whole Blackpool illuminations. I hope he didn’t look back after that.
    Oh, but how sad, Elen, that your early experience put you off myths and legends.

  3. Ah, but Frances, there is a whole range of wonderful stuff out there, even if I’ll never be reading the Mabinogi again. There’s not enough time to read it all!

  4. This is such an important message, and so often neglected. I’m constantly looking for books to inspire readers, and there are so few that really do the job. There are books that are given huge press coverage, but when I read a few pages I know they will not excite children, especially the less able, or the struggling. Perhaps we need a database of children’s books, one that allows a user to input a favourite book and receive recommendations from other users. Or does this already exist?

  5. Well said – the discovery that reading is like a door into other worlds is a life changing experience.

  6. Oh how I agree! I LOATHED (and still do) all those worthy legends of Wales books. I even wrote one, and tried to put my own (amusing ~ well, I thoughtso, anyway!) slant on one or two of the stories but was frowned at and told to behave. Needless to say it’s not one of my best-sellers.


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