How to spark the interest of that reluctant reader who’d sharpen every pencil in the school before they’d open a book? Well first, don’t make them read a demoralisingly long ‘chapter book’. And second, spellbind them with proper stories – ideally involving ancient magic, hideous monsters, dwarfs and giants. Not Harry Potter, but important old myths and legends. And explain that although we find these adventures in books, they came down through the generations orally, before print – or kindles. Everyone, whatever their age, listened to the storyteller. I’ve found some older struggling readers are embarrassed to be read to (and what a shame that is), but relax into the story if they see it as a respectable tradition. Soon they’re clamouring for another instalment of Rhiannon on her horse that no man can catch, one-eyed Odin, the trickster Loki, Sita and Rama, Theseus and Ariadne, Lancelot and Guinevere. Choose versions with evocative illustrations and muscular, direct language (try the Norse sagas for this – I like Kevin Crossley-Holland’s retellings), and dynamic tales with a touch of blood and gore, a clear message, a dash of humour, strong heroes and heroines (oh, that’s all of them…) and your reluctant readers might just want to take the book home. Then watch their imaginations soar.
Pic from Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor and Loki by Kevin Crossley-Holland, illustrated by Jeffrey Alan Love
Like most teachers, I know the lure and the dangers of labelling children, and try to avoid doing it. Charlie’s a boy aged ten, who’s in Y5. Why reduce him to ‘a Year 5’? It’s quicker, of course, and only lasts12 months. It has meaning within a limited context, but like all labels, it excludes everything else that Charlie ‘is’. More objectionable are sticky negative labels that a child may never be able to remove. Of course, positive labels are just as reductionist – what does Maisie do beyond incarnating an Able Infant? – but the connotations they accrue, the life paths they signal, the prophecies they help fulfil, somehow don’t grate so much.
But if we accept the welcome effect of some labels, we must worry about the negative fall-out from others. One that I’m fixated on at the moment is Reluctant Reader. Several students have come to me dragging that millstone. I tell them I’ll have none of it, and we set about removing the ‘reluctant’ element. I admit to being more favourably inclined to Reader... The American writer, James Patterson, puts it well:
“There’s no such thing as a kid who hates reading. There are just kids who love reading, and kids who are reading the wrong books. We need to help them find the right books.”
Have a look at his website Read Kiddo Read for the wonderfully named I-hated-to-Read-Until-I-Read-This Booklist for Boys. There’s a mix of genres and countries of publication, and free extracts to download.
Try the UK recommendation site Love Reading For Kids for other booklists and extracts.
I think we’d all agree with their pitch that:
Reading is fundamental to the development of children, and countless research shows the links between good reading skills from an early age and future success in life.