For the love of reading

This post is inspired by @cherrylkd s shared blog on reading blogsync ; I too have been an avid reader all my life and this inevitably permeates my teaching.

When I was a child I always had my nose in a book. Mum was an English teacher and our house was full of classics. Dad liked a range of adventure and spy novels so there was plenty to choose from. My earliest memory of reading was Enid Blyton and I yearned to be one of the Famous Five and picnic on Kirren Island! I also loved her Secret books especially Kiki the parrot who would scare off villains by mimicking the sound of a steam train!

That’s the great thing about childhood books – they stay with you forever and you never forget plots, characters etc! When I was ten I contracted bronchitis and asthma and was in bed for at least six weeks; in those days treatment was limited so I was forced to stay immobile in order to breathe. At this point C S Lewis literally became my breath of life! My mum bought the whole set and brought one out each week as a treat. As a very sick child I was able to escape into a magical world and would go to sleep willing myself to wake up in Narnia like the Pevensies; of course the disappointment was crashing when I awoke in my own bed!

Over the next few years I was very poorly and it was reading that kept me going, along with listening to music. I devoured all the children’s classics such as Black Beauty and moved on to adult classics. I adored adventure books and thrillers; Lorna Doone, John Buchan’s The Thirty Nine Steps , anything by H Rider Haggard – ‘She’ was particularly  haunting and haunted, a beautiful and ageless sorceress crumbling into dust. I loved tragic novels including Mill on the Floss and Wuthering Heights and anything with pirates so Peter Pan and Treasure Island were much loved.

I could go on and on and on! Saturday was my favourite day of the week as the morning was spent in the library with my dad and we would come home with armfuls of books! If I was poorly my dad would go and get me some books; the only problem with that was he sometimes got me books I didn’t like such as Noel Streatfeild’s ballet books! They never appealed because as a young girl I was thrown out of ballet and tap classes for having two left feet !!!!

Now as an adult I tend to go for light reading, mainly thrillers and crime novels; I’ve always loved crime  and have read every single one of Agatha Christie’s books! Of course I adore Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot; one of my faves as the first Christie I read was the Mysterious Affair at Styles. Currently I am reading one of Michael Connelly’s courtroom thrillers: I also love anything by James Patterson who is fashionably scorned as an author but I admire the work he has done to promote children ‘s literacy; he is currently giving some of his money to support small bookshops which I think is admirable as he is literally putting his money where his mouth is !

As a teacher I have always focused on trying to imbue children of all ages with a love of books. I have always loved fairy  and traditional tales and kids respond well to these. There have been moves to produce sanitised versions but it is the dark elements which children are drawn to and which play on  the imagination. Stories of witches, children cooked in pots, locked rooms which hide the bodies of murdered wives, robbers – The Robber Bridegroom was nasty and I always remember a naive bride-to-be sitting  with her fiance when a severed finger with a gold ring on sprang into her lap from his previous victim! Not that I would teach that of course but even versions of Cinderella end up with the sisters meeting a gruesome end! These stories arose from the oral traditions where tales were passed from one generation to another and this is another vital component of encouraging a love of books. As a little girl bedtime stories were the highlight of my day; my mum was a fab storyteller and made up her own about the adventures of Wally and Gruffy, a wolf and a bear. My brother and I would sit on my bed, literally spellbound, as we pleaded for the next installment!

I trained to be an early years’ teacher and that oral tradition has been firmly embedded in my classrooms. Older children love to hear stories too and I have always had a class novel on the go. Yes it is important for children to learn phonics and have graded readers but it is the oral share which gives access to worlds beyond mere ‘reading age’. A lot of recent debate on phonics misses the point that reading should not just be a mechanical skill. In my PRU children often struggle with reading because behaviour and/or underlying SEN has been a barrier to learning. I remember in one mixed Y5/Y6 class I taught the average reading age was 5 to 6 years. It was the class novel which fired up the kids’ imaginations. First we shared Cirques du Freaks which recently was the focus of bad press on Twitter from the so-called elite! One boy with SEN absolutely blossomed ! He was reading and spelling cvc words but boy could he  talk about and discuss that book in depth and detail! He really came to life and it had a knock- on effect on his actual reading; he came on in leaps and bounds! His mum was delighted and he asked for the whole set of the books for Christmas. He returned to his mainstream school and never looked back!! The next term I nervously decided to try the Railway Children, prepared to ditch it if it didn’t engage the boys. What a triumph! Streetwise boys who were spray painting buildings and fighting were totally immersed in this bygone age. It was at the time of our outstanding OFSTED and I can remember the lead coming into our session listening to some reading out loud and focused discussion about characters and motivation. One of the lads actually asked if he could look up an unfamiliar word in the dictionary! Later I was outraged when she asked me about a child who couldn’t actually read the text; I quickly put her straight on shared reading behaviours and the purpose of the session!

One thing I haven’t touched on is the importance of non- fiction. Both my husband and I are avid fiction readers and it was a source of great frustration that our son didn’t really like stories apart from the occasional Roald Dahl. However he loved anything technical – how- to books, computer manuals etc. Now he reads books which I pick up, admire, and put down. A look at his bedside shows me, to name a couple , Ghosts of Empire by Kwasi Kwarteng and Building Jerusalem by Tristram Hunt. He loves anything historical or geographical- he must now be a leading expert on North Korea judging by his reading material. For him reading opens windows into history and strange lands.

Phew! This has been a mammoth blog but I have stuck with it because I am so passionate about the subject matter! I am passionate because it saves lives and changes lives; it also stays with you for all your lives! Please read!

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