When were you first bitten by the book bug?
As a high school English teacher at an all-girls school, I am constantly disheartened that so many of the students don’t read. They don’t read for pleasure and they don’t read assigned texts. Sometimes it seems that books have become the enemy.
Sadly, research shows that if 10 to 13-year-olds are not reading for pleasure, they are likely to lose the hard-wiring that would have kept them reading as adults. Reading after this age becomes an unnatural chore, affecting their ability to study at a tertiary level and perform well in the workplace.
There are far-reaching consequences for these kids. During infants and primary school, they have managed to avoid the book bug. Unfortunately, by the time they get to Year 7 (12-13 years old), it is highly likely that no matter what we do, it is too late. Consequently, I have a very simple goal as an English teacher – to get more kids reading.
Unlike most authors, I didn’t grow up surrounded by books. As a child I was neither encouraged nor discouraged to read. Books just really weren’t a thing we discussed or got involved in as a family. And I can’t remember my parents reading anything, apart from newspapers and magazines.
Like all children, I brought home my first readers from school in kindergarten. They featured Pam, Sam and Digger. Then my brother began reading me the books of Dr Seuss, but I didn’t like them. I didn’t appreciate the magic of Dr Seuss until I was older.
Research has also proven that parental involvement increases the proclivity for reading for pleasure. If so, how did I learn to read? How did I learn to write? I find myself wondering, now.
When I was seven or eight my mother began sending me to the corner shop every afternoon with fifty cents. My task was to purchase The Daily Mirror. This was back in the days when newspapers had a morning and an afternoon edition. Walking back up the hill to my home, I took to scanning the front page. Initially, I just examined the images. Soon I began reading the articles. I’d lean on a fence or sit on a neighbour’s wall eating the freckles I had bought with the change, reading the stories and the cartoons.
Similarly, I don’t care what the reluctant readers in my classes are reading – non-fiction, magazines, sporting biographies … so long as they are reading. It doesn’t have to be top-notch, literary fiction. My students receive lollipops for completing a book. It’s basic, positive reinforcement, and it works.
While Pam, Sam and Digger taught me the basics, it was on these walks home that I learnt to read proficiently.
With knowledge comes power. I wanted to read more. I began on the Trixie Belden mysteries - a series of children’s books about a girl detective. They were recommended by my school librarian. I was hooked and hungry for more. I quickly moved on to the Agatha Christie mysteries. My mother had seen an advertisement in a magazine and was spurred into purchasing the entire collection. They were a Time Life series. The dust jackets featured images such as a dagger, a vial of poison or a smoking pistol, sensational images that appealed to my ten-year-old self.
By this stage there was no stopping me. In my final year at school, I received an award for being the student who’d borrowed the most books from the school library!
As a parent, I encourage my kids to read. When they were younger, I read to them each day. I want to nurture their love of stories. I’m not going to leave it to chance. I also read to the students in my classes regularly. Hearing an adult read aloud correctly, with the right intonation, pausing and so on, can bring stories alive for the listener. Hopefully, one day they’ll be stung by the book bug, just as I was.
If you’re interested in what’s best for kids to read, as I am, check out this article that covers both sides of the debate.