The joy of reading – never ditch your picture books.

I was on St Austell Bay Radio on Tuesday and had great fun, much less scary than I thought it was going to be but then I hadn’t anticipated DJs on pogo boots, school kids and chocolate rolls.

I was in to talk about books for children which is trickier than you’d think. Too many children are put off reading at an early age because reading is made to be competitive due to the progressive reading schemes. The minute you make something competitive you have losers and there will be some children left behind. Children who get left behind end up disliking the activity.

First of all reading is a functional skill which takes us a while to get, for some of us it takes longer than others and the way we teach reading in this country means that for some children they will feel like failures as they fall behind their friends on the book schemes. If a child hasn’t completely learnt to loathe books by the time they are functionally literate then the next hurdle is finding something they enjoy. There’s a whole world of books out there and yet we seem to limit what kids can read to a narrow range of fictional titles.

We have an obsession with age specific reading (more pressure) and ditch picture books at the first opportunity because we think children are too old for them. I love Anthony Browne and Asterix and my childhood days are way behind me! If a child asks you to remove their picture books, box them up and “rediscover” them again a year later. They will leap on them with such enthusiasm. Picture books are fabulous, you can tell your own stories, there’s different stuff for your brain to do, analysing images rather than processing text. Children should never be made to feel that picture books are for babies.

And it’s not just picture books that get dismissed. Why isn’t the Guinness Book of Records an acceptable reading book? Men tend to prefer non-fiction so maybe boys would prefer to read non fiction as well? What about comics and graphic novels, they’re telling stories, why aren’t they considered acceptable?

All that we are left with is fiction but even then, that gets whittled down. We don’t all like Fantasy so why on earth do we assume that all 11 year olds will love Harry Potter? Just because you liked Jane Austen as a girl why assume that your daughter will? And just because someone has decreed that Dickens is a classic it doesn’t mean that they are right. Reading is about freedom, not coercion.

Having gone through all that, it’s a wonder that anyone enjoys reading. There should be no pressure to read the popular title, or the approved title, or the hard book, or three books a week or to finish a book once you’ve started it. Just let kids pick up and put down books all day long, let them have a huge range of titles, don’t test them on them and don’t encourage them to read a certain amount. Just let them be and don’t worry; if they’re relaxed about reading and have access to books then one day something will click.

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