The day I made my English teacher cry
I stood at the front of the class, my speech written out word for word. This was my English oral, and the subject I had to talk on was one of my hobbies.
I was three years old when I first gave a talk at church, so I have experience talking in front of people. I still hate it. My palms sweat, my knees shake and I would prefer to be anywhere else but up in front of people expected to say something resembling intelligence.
For my English class, I chose the hobby of reading. I was doubly nervous because, not only was I speaking in front of people I had only recently met, but I realised just before I began, I had also prepared an incredibly honest and vulnerable speech. I spoke about my love of reading and how I used it as an escape in the years I was bullied. I spoke about the characters I loved and admired. I talked about the books that had taught me something, and given me the confidence to continue trying to achieve my goals.
It was after class that my teacher told me how worried she became about my speech. It was either going to be taken really well or it was going to be the start of me being bullied again. Seeing how well my classmates responded to me talking about something I so clearly loved - a topic which is also close to her heart - made her emotional. In my naiveté, when preparing the presentation, I hadn't considered that this was something that could start the cycle of bullying again. Luckily, my new classmates were all lovely people and my presentation made me their go-to person for book recommendations.
I have always read voraciously. In A-level English Literature, I ended the year having read more World War One literature than my teacher.
Last year was the first year I recorded how many books I read and totalled 128. I have read 82 books so far this year and I currently have 3 books on the go right now. When Rory Gilmore gave her valedictorian speech and said “I live in two worlds. One is a world of books…” I identified with her. I love immersing myself in fictional worlds and meeting new characters. Or opening the pages of a story I have read hundreds of times; rediscovering characters I know so well it’s like spending time with old friends.
When I struggled with my health and energy levels, my nephew knew that I was the person he read stories with. He’d walk in the living room, see me on the sofa in my pjs and know that meant I wasn't going to be playing active games with him that day. He would select ‘Dear Zoo’ and a couple of other books off the bookshelf, and bring them to me to read. I loved the way he fit against me as he snuggled in close under a blanket and read with me. I can still quote ‘Dear Zoo’ and his little brother loves it just as much!
It is no wonder then, that I also love photographs of people reading. Photographs of children reading with family members reminds me of the quote by Emilie Buchwald:
“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”
Reading is so incredibly worthwhile.
What do you do if your child doesn't want to read?
Explore different books
“There’s no such thing as a kid who hates reading. There are kids who love reading, and kids who are reading the wrong books.” - James Patterson
One of my nephews is incredibly social, likes to be the centre of attention and make people laugh. At nursery he is already showing his talent for being the class clown (just like his daddy). He likes to be active. But he still loves reading. We try to find new books to keep his attention. He’s a big fan of interactive books like ‘Open Very Carefully,’ ‘Press Here,’ and our latest discovery: ‘There’s a Monster in your Book.’ Especially the page where you have to “make the noise again but LOUDER!”
My parents always encouraged my siblings and I to read. I remember weekly/fortnightly trips to the library. We were allowed to choose the books we wanted to read. We learnt how to find books that appealed to us. We would browse through the variety of beautiful covers, read the blurb, and the first few pages to see if it would really grab us. My Mum allowed us the time to browse and the ability to narrow down our selections.
Let them read
My Mum shared with me the books she loved as a child; authors like Malcolm Saville. I devoured the 'Lone Pine' series among others of his books. When my Mum was a child, Young Adult fiction didn't exist. My Granny had conversations with some of her friends who disapproved of the books that my Mum was reading, books they didn't consider to be "good fiction." Not because of content, but because of poorly-used English. Granny allowed my Mum to read these books, believing that she would later learn to discern good fiction from the poor.
Mum has had conversations with people her age whose parents stopped them from reading certain books and they haven't picked up a book since.
Mum allowed us to read the books that maybe aren't considered the "best literature" because it kept us reading. I worked my way through the majority of Enid Blyton's books: 'Animorphs,' 'The Babysitter's Club' and 'Sweet Valley High.' My Mum encouraged me, knowing at some point I would progress on to what others might call "good fiction."
Don't be afraid to read books outside their age range
Obviously some books might be outside their age range because of mature content. It's a personal thing for each parent to decide what they're happy with their child reading. I know that my parents read some popular books before us to check they were happy with us reading that content. That being said, I love when parents read to their children books that are beyond their reading ability.
My nephew went through a stage where he became obsessed with aeroplanes. At two years old, he was able to pick out the difference in sound between a helicopter and an aeroplane flying over us. I will always remember when his Daddy said "Listen, a plane," and my nephew listened, frowned and said "no, 'copter." My nephew was correct. Completely obsessed.
I went to the book shop wanting to buy him a book on aeroplanes, but there were none in the shop in his age range which featured aeroplanes. I could probably have researched online and found one, instead I chose 'Usborne Lift-the-flap: Look Inside Things That Go.' It was recommended for 5-8 year olds but my two-year-old nephew loved it! We didn't read all the words, instead we'd focus on lifting the flaps and chatting about what he could see.
Bonus: he still loves that book now and is able to get more out of it.
Enjoy books in all formats
When my brother wasn't interested in reading to himself, my Mum encouraged him to borrow graphic novels or books on tape (I'm showing my age there!). My Dad would spend time in the evening reading to him books like 'The Hobbit' and 'The Lord of the Rings.'
I distinctly remember our holiday to America when I was 12. My parents had bought several of the 'Harry Potter' books on tape (read by Stephen Fry). The many hours spent in the car suddenly became exciting as my brothers discovered the world of Harry Potter for the first time. They were disappointed when the car stopped because they wanted to continue with the story.
I was introduced to Jane Austen through the BBC 'Pride and Prejudice' adaptation. I was seven when it came out in 1995, and I believe I first read the book a year or two later. I was able to work my way through the difficult language because I already knew the story.
Make it part of the routine
Growing up, reading was part of our bedtime routine. We went to bed at our set time and we could either read for half an hour or go to sleep immediately. Given the choice of reading/listening to a book on tape or moving bedtime half an hour early, we normally chose to read.
I don't remember a birthday or Christmas where I didn't receive books, or money with the intention that I would choose my own book to buy.
Keep books low down
Children's books in our home are on a shelf low enough that children can reach them on their own. This means that my nephews do reach for them on a regular basis. If we decide to spend some time reading together, they are able to select the books they want to read without help.
If books are up high, they tend to ask for their favourite books all the time. When on a lower shelf, they are able to see the variety of books available and pick something new if they fancy.
We also tend to rotate the books that are most easily accessible to encourage more variety in their reading.
Make sure children see you reading
Children learn from our examples.
Photographs of children discovering books on their own tug at my heartstrings. I hope that in the future they will get as much enjoyment from literature as I do.
If you're looking for new books to read with your children, this blog is the perfect place to start!