Tag Archives: encouraging children to read

It Does Your Heart Good

Over the weekend, I had cause to be out in the world, among people, in an actual city. I even took several forms of public transport, alone and unchaperoned, and I managed to survive the ordeal intact.

In fact, it was rather fun.

Photo Credit: Chris_O'Donoghue via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Chris_O’Donoghue via Compfight cc

Getting out like this is a big deal for me. When one is, as I am, living away from a major urban centre, and stymied not only by an inability to learn how to drive (all right, all right, so more like an unwillingness than an actual inability, but this will be the year, my friends. This will be the year I finally bite that particular bullet!) and also slightly financially embarrassed, getting around can be hard. But I had a friend who was home on a flying visit from a foreign clime (well, the UK. Not exactly Svalbard, but still. I don’t see him very often) and so efforts were made and trains were taken and streets were navigated, and everything worked out perfectly.

On the way home, I took a tram for part of my journey (I did this mainly because I think Dublin’s tram system is extremely cool, and I just wanted to take a short trip for fun. If you’re ever visiting that fair city, do try it). In my carriage was a lady travelling with her father and several of her children, and they were a thoroughly charming bunch.

Yes. All right. So I eavesdropped. It was hard not to. Don’t judge me.

Anyway. During the course of their conversation the lady and her son had a brief exchange, a version of which I have thoughtfully recreated for you below. I do not jest when I tell you that hearing it made my book-lovin’ heart swell, just a little.

Mum: ‘So, we went to the library last Saturday, didn’t we?’

Son: ‘Hmmf.’

Mum: ‘And how many books did we get out?’

Son: ‘Five.’

Mum: ‘Five! And how many had you read by Sunday afternoon?’

Son: ‘Four. And a bit.’

Grandfather: *chuckles*

Mum: ‘Four and a bit. And so then, what did we do?’

Son: ‘Dunno.’

Mum: ‘We went back to the library on Wednesday, didn’t we?’

Son: ‘Yeah.’

Mum: ‘And how many books did we get out that time?’

Son: ‘Five.’

Mum: ‘And when had you read all of those?’

Son: ‘Friday.’

Grandfather: ‘Good lad. Good lad, yourself.’

I felt like cheering (even though it would have been inexcusably rude) or maybe just turning around and giving the kid a high-five. His mum was extremely proud of him, of course – my recreation of their dialogue doesn’t really get that across, maybe – and she wasn’t in any way complaining about all these library treks. She was prompting him to tell his granddad how good he was at reading, and it was brilliant to hear a whole family, over several generations, being so reading-positive and library-positive and praising a young person for being such a great reader. Particularly, of course, when that young person is a boy. Reading has a reputation as being something which appeals more to girls than to boys, which I think is a shame; any child who wants to read, regardless of gender, should be encouraged to do so. Of course. Also, libraries are underfunded and overstretched, and I was so pleased to hear about one family’s enjoyment of their local branch – though it did make me woefully guilty that I haven’t visited the one library I’m a member of in over three years.

Three years. There’s no excuse.

Anyway. Today’s mini-post is just to say ‘well done’ to that young man on the tram, and to every child who loves to read and who – like I used to – enjoys nothing more than taking five books out of the library and having them all read by the end of the following day, despite the fact that it leaves them bookless until the next trip (it’s strange how I never really learned the lesson to take books slowly and make them last – I do something similar with chocolate, funnily enough). It’s to say ‘well done’ to every parent and grandparent and guardian and aunt and uncle and older sibling and family friend who praises a child for reading and who encourages them to read. It’s to say ‘well done’ to the fantastic librarians (and, indeed, booksellers and teachers) who help children to find their next great read and who form the reading tastes and, as a result in some ways, the entire lives of the small people they come in contact with. It’s to say ‘well done’ to all the writers and illustrators out there who make books children love and which they want to experience, not just with their eyes but with their mind and their whole being. The books we read and love as children have such an impact on our adulthood, I firmly believe, and when we read as children it’s more immersive and complete than at any other time in our lives.

Sometimes, it can feel like reading is falling out of fashion. Games and apps and TV and YouTube and what have you seem to be replacing books in the lives of many young people, but I learned a lesson this past weekend. No matter how bad things seem, there will always be readers, and they are as committed and passionate now as they’ve ever been. Is it any wonder I skipped off that tram with a spring in my step?

 

 

Reality Check

I’ve written before on this blog of my passion for encouraging literacy, particularly among children; if I had my way, every child on this planet would be exposed to books at as early an age as possible. If there was one thing I could do – given unlimited power and funds – it would be to equip every child in the world with their own mini-library, and with the skills to read it. I truly feel that one of the most useful things we can do for our future generations is to ensure they can read as well as they are able, and that they read as widely as possible.

Of course, there are children who just don’t like to read – that’s sad, but it’s a fact. However, they should, at least, be given the opportunity to read, and encouraged to try, and exposed to as many different types of book as possible, just in case something might engage their imagination and spark off their interest. I have a belief – and it may be a naive and silly belief, but it’s mine just the same – that there is a book for every child.

A sight that gladdens my heart... Image: shannonbrown.typepad.com

A sight that gladdens my heart…
Image: shannonbrown.typepad.com

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to put this belief into practice. I was in a bookshop – one with which I’m long familiar, and which I can never resist dipping into if I’m close enough to visit it – and I was, of course, browsing intently in the children’s section. A young mother approached me, her six-year-old daughter in tow, and asked me my opinion on what she should purchase for her little girl to read.

I’m not sure if she thought I was a staff member, or if it was a case of ‘once a bookseller, always a bookseller’ and she caught the whiff of enthusiastic knowledge from me, but whatever the reason for her question, I was happy to help. I learned this lady was the mother of a ten-year-old, the six-year-old I had the pleasure of meeting, and a four-year-old, all girls. The eldest child was a strong and enthusiastic reader, she told me, but the others struggled. They found it hard to emulate their sister, and found themselves bored by a lot of the books they’d tried in the past. They liked ‘funny’ books, and were growing tired of the princessy-type, pink and glitter books that they had once loved.

I threw my eyes around the shelves, and came up with a few ideas. Andy Stanton’s ‘Mr Gum’ books were my first suggestion, followed by Francesca Simon’s ‘Horrid Henry’ series (enthusiastically grabbed by the six-year-old); for the older girls, I thought of Jeremy Strong’s ‘There’s a Viking in my Bed!’ and the wonderful books of David Walliams, which are funny but also sweet and uplifting, with a comforting focus on love and friendship and family, so important to young readers. I think the lady was touched by my efforts and glad of the suggestions, and I certainly appreciated being asked for help.

Image: waterstones.com

Image: waterstones.com

However, as pleased as I was to have helped these young readers to find something good to exercise their brains, there was one aspect of the situation that has been on my mind ever since, and it centres on the fact that the bookshop we happened to be in was one that deals exclusively in second-hand books. The reason I like to go there so often is because I always find new authors to follow and new series to start collecting, and it’s fantastic to dig around in the piles of books and uncover some lost classics and rarities. It’s also wonderful to be able to pick up a book for less money than it would be if I bought it new – but with a view, always, to purchasing the writer’s back catalogue in a ‘proper’ bookshop if I like what I buy second-hand. I discovered Catherine Fisher this way; I got heavily into Kate Thompson by browsing the shelves of this very shop. The same thing applies to Jenny Nimmo, who I adore, and most of whose books I have subsequently purchased new. Sometimes, I don’t mind buying books second-hand if the author is deceased, or if their work is out of copyright – then, I don’t feel like I’m dipping my hand into a fellow writer’s pocket and taking their earnings from them – but normally I try to purchase books new as often as I can. Not everyone feels this way, for a variety of reasons – some of them excellent, unassailably logical reasons.

The mother of these young readers, for instance, was enthusiastic about second-hand books not because they were a gateway to new writers and their back catalogues, but because of their cheapness and relative ‘disposability’; it’s always easier to give a book away, or not to mind if it gets wet or torn or dirty, if you didn’t buy it ‘new’. I can’t blame the lady for thinking this way – as important as it is for children to read, it’s also important for them to have shoes and clothes and school uniforms and food, of course, and I can completely understand why new books would slide down a parent’s list of priorities. But, as an aspiring writer, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of pain at the thought.

Every book bought second-hand benefits, in financial terms, nobody but the person selling it; the author gets nothing. If a book is borrowed in a library, at least the author gets a tiny fraction of a payment for it. It’s tough, realising that something which benefits readers so much (i.e. second-hand book purchasing) can be such a bad thing from a writer’s point of view, but that is the reality of the world we live in. I do not judge the lady I helped for her choice, particularly because I also frequent second-hand bookshops (though I do try to support the authors I love as much as I can); I just hope that, perhaps, encouraging children to read when they’re young will turn them into not only enthusiastic consumers of books, but also enthusiastic supporters of writers when they grow older, thereby ensuring there will always be a flow of new books to read. I also hate reducing the whole ‘book creation-book consumption’ thing to crass economic terms, but that’s a reality, too. Writers need to earn a living, however meagre, and that’s becoming harder and harder with every passing year.

It’s important to clearly state that of course I believe it’s more important to encourage children to read than it is to ensure they only read from brand-new books – literacy concerns trump all else – but thoughts of ‘what will become of writers?’ have been playing on my mind since my encounter with this lady, nonetheless. I’d love to hear your opinions on this, if you have any. If you buy your books in hard copy, do you like to browse in second-hand shops? What’s your thinking on the economic issues I’ve laid out here? Do tell.

Happy Tuesday! And, naturally, I hope you’re reading, no matter where you bought your book.

Starting Early

Did you see this wonderful news story yesterday?

For those who don’t do clicking, or who can’t click on links, I’ll tell you what I’m talking about. Yesterday on Twitter someone linked to a story about a novelist who has just published his second book, and who is writing the final part in his trilogy about a pair of magician brothers. The books explore dark magic and the twisty intrigue of secret magical societies, as well as the complicated relationship between the brothers. The stories sounded amazing enough as they were, but when it emerged that the author is nine years of age (yes – nine), well. You could’ve knocked me down with a feather.

Joe Prendergast, for it is he, is far from being the only author who has been published at a tender age. Irish author Claire Hennessy, for instance, was first published while she was still at school, and Catherine Webb had written five books by the time she turned twenty – and all of them were brilliant.

Both Claire Hennessy and Catherine Webb are still writing, and have carved out successful careers for themselves in the literary world. Hopefully, then, if young Mr. Prendergast wants a career as a writer when he grows older, he should have no problem achieving that aim.

The young and talented Mr. Prendergast himself! Image: independent.ie

The young and talented Mr. Prendergast himself!
Image: independent.ie

It’s wonderful to see this young author meeting with the support and encouragement he needed to finish his series of books, and not only that, but to see them through to publication too. It goes to show the brilliant things that can happen when a person with talent, determination and a great idea for a book meets the technology to get it out into the world; Joe was first spotted by an online publisher, who championed him and made his books available through their website. There are also fantastic sites like Wattpad, used by millions of young people all over the world, allowing them to write for the sheer joy of it and share stories with one another with ease. Sometimes I wish these things had been available when I was young and at school. I’m not saying that anything I was writing at that stage was worth reading (not by a long shot!) but it would have been such a thrill to be able to publish work to a website, to see your words somewhere outside your own head, and to imagine what it might be like to be a published author.

Then again, I was a terribly shy and awkward teenager. I’m not sure that I’d have availed of a service like Wattpad, or even WordPress, as a young person; the very idea that other people might be able to read what I’d written might have thrown me into a fit of nerves so serious as to be life-threatening. I was certainly writing – prolifically – as a nine-year-old and all the way through my teens, but it’s probably a good thing that nobody ever saw a word that fell out of my fevered brain. Then, on the other hand, if I’d had the chance to share my words with the world via the internet as a younger person, perhaps I’d be winning literary prizes right now and be working on my thirty-fifth book – the earlier you start to get feedback, the stronger your work will become, of course. It’s a bit of a pain to be only beginning the whole process now, as a person in her *cough* thirties. I can only imagine how much stronger my writing would be if I’d been doing it seriously for twenty years or more at this stage.

Then, I guess it’s better late than never. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make up for lost time in the years that I have left to me. And if you’re a person who wants to write (no matter what age you are), then let this story be a lesson. You’re never too young, or too old, to get your ideas out there and share your words with the story of the world. There’s no excuse these days!

Today, April 23rd, is also an important day in the world of books, in case you didn’t know already. As well as being the birth (and death) day of Shakespeare, and the birthday of Cervantes, it’s also World Book Night tonight.

Image: mediabistro.com

Image: mediabistro.com

Designed to encourage and foster a love of reading among people who may not otherwise take up an opportunity to pick up a book, World Book Night is a fantastic endeavour. For, of course, if we’re going to encourage people to write, we’ll need to recruit a whole new batch of readers, too. I don’t think there’s anything more valuable that we can give to our children than a love of reading and a desire to create, share and consume stories. I’d love to see a world where reading, and a love of reading, came to people as naturally as breathing. I have a suspicion the world would be a happier place if this could be a reality.

So – start early, whether you’re reading or writing; ideally, do both. It’s never too late to start, and it’s always worth giving it a go.

Happy World Book Night! May your words flow.