Allowing children to read ‘cool’ books rather than stiff old tomes the authorities think they should be ploughing through is the key to stimulating a creative love of reading. That’s according to a wonderful little article in the Evening Standard, Forget Austen, there are no explosions, which quotes Steven Moffat, the writer behind successful TV series Doctor Who and Sherlock.
He says: “We should give [children] really cool books that they think are exciting. It doesn’t matter if they are good books as long as they read. Reading makes you better at English. Reading a lot makes you want to read better books.”
He’s so right. I’m a professional writer now who can’t bear to flirt with badly written fiction. Life is far too short for that, and my bookshelves are stuffed with books I’d much rather commit to. However, as a 10-year-old child, I devoured just about every murder mystery that Agatha Christie wrote. My father said she was a bad writer – not that at aged 10 I noticed – but I was allowed to go to the big library to choose the books. There was always a frisson of excitement that I was being allowed to borrow books that were too grown-up for me. And it made me want to read them more.
I think that’s what Moffat is getting at here. Don’t bore kids with the classics and the same-old stuff that’s been on the curriculum for years. Make the choice of book slightly out of reach, or rather trendy, or something that’s for fun. And the kids will be engrossed.
It worked for me with my eight-year-old daughter, when she said she hated reading and didn’t want to read any more. This went on for a week until I realised that she just wasn’t getting on with the book school had given her. Swapping it with an exciting one on her bookshelf (one of her best friends had given it as a present for her birthday) meant she was immediately switched on to reading again.
Here are other ways to make reading a treat for kids, not a chore:
1. Where they read: let them do it in bed, in the car, perching on the arm of the sofa, or on the trampoline. Seeing my daughter engrossed in a book is the biggest gift I can receive.
2. What they read: as above, let them choose the coolest, trendiest, even ‘easiest’ book they can find. They’ll soon expand their horizons and want to move to other books too.
3. How they read: my daughter hates having to read out loud to me every day after school, so we compromise on some pages read out loud, and some pages ‘in her head’. I then test her on a few difficult words afterwards to see if her comprehension is still there.
4. When they read: a huge treat for me was being able to read in bed. I’ve promised my daughter a special reading lamp that can attach to her bed so she can read, almost, under the covers. That always feels illicit. I always read half an hour later than I should as a child, and my dad always let me have that extra time before making me switch off the light. I thank him for making reading such an indulgence for me.
5. Buy book tokens as gifts for their friends. That way, the kids have to buy books – even if it’s ones you wouldn’t choose yourself.
6. Role model reading. A treat for me is to have my head in a book, with no sense of space or time as I lose myself in the character and plot. I have books everywhere, and am constantly ordering more from Amazon. Kids see that and take it as normal.
7. Create your own kids book. This is next on my agenda. My daughter and I have plotted some characters, some designs, and some morals of the story. What would be more of a motivation to get children to read than to have published a book of their own.