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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Getting a child to read

The average number of blog posts achieved by most new bloggers before they lose interest and/or inspiration is six. This post is to let you know that I haven’t reached that point.

It’s just the book I’m reading at the moment is a 470-page monster and as I’m stuck into editing my own novel as well, it’s taking me a while to get through it. And I’m dying to blog about it, so watch this space. It’s a fascinating object.

Meanwhile I am wondering how I can get my seven and a half-year old daughter to start reading. By which I mean free reading - on her own, without help or encouragement. Proper nose in a book/the house could fall down reading.

It’s not that she doesn’t like books. It’s just she sees them as something that I read to her. Ideally with a lot of bright pictures. Chapter books with a few scrappy line drawings every six pages just don’t hold her attention.

How is it possible that I have a child like this? I’ve been obsessed with books ever since my father read me Paddington Bear. I laughed so hard at the part where he climbs onto the table in the station cafĂ© and slips on a cream bun, I fell out of bed.

I can clearly remember the moment, shortly after, when I realised that this source of hilarity was trapped inside the pages of the book forever and would be there any time I felt like having a laugh. Shazam!

From that moment on I read everything I could lay my hands on, saved all my pocket money to buy books, knew every inch of the local children’s library, and was a founder member of the Puffin Club.

To encourage a similar passion I have read to my daughter since before she could talk and filled her environment with tempting books at every stage. Plus, she has grown up surrounded by people who share my love of reading.

One of her godmothers is an eminent publisher, I’ve lost count of the books another one has written, and the third is my favourite book-discussion pal, who has also written a novel. Her three godfathers are equally reading orientated, so she has always been surrounded by book talk, in a house where you can hardly move for the bloody things.

Yet while contemporaries at her school from far less literary backgrounds romp through the entire Beast Quest, Mr Gum and even Harry Potter series, it’s all I can do to get Peggy to read Olivia to herself. She does have favourites – Eloise would be near the top – but she’s just not a reader.

I blame myself, of course. I’m a mother! That’s what we do… But seriously, while surrounding her with books, I fear I have also let her watch far too much television. As an only child, I thought it was company for her, but I fear it is has zapped her concentration span.

But I keep trying. Early attempts at chapter books – ghastly things about Susan the Skating Fairy , Penny the Pony Fairy and Deidre the Dreary Fairy – just put her off. I could see why. They were the childhood equivalent of Barbara Cartland.

The best success so far were the Ottoline books, which are pleasing small hardbacks with as much illustration as text and kooky characters, but while she did read both of them to herself, it failed to ignite an ongoing reading habit.

I would do love to share my most enduring pleasure with her. So if anyone has any tips – or words of encouragement - to share, I would be deeply grateful.


  1. Try Fudge!
    I was a precocious reader, so I cannot remember what age I was when I discovered the Fudge series (Judy Blume I think but not that kind of Judy Blume)

    Also Bumface by Morris Gleitzman - whom you might have come across at The Age/Syd Herald.

    The Bumface books are set very much in modern reality - not a Mills and Boon one.

    And I really loved "The Nargun and The Stars" written by Patricia Wrightson and illustrated by Robert Ingpen.

    It built a whole fantasy world around the farmlet that we had moved to from Melbourne. That sustained me for a while.


  2. I used to read a lot when I was Peggy's age, maybe as I was in hospital a lot. Roald Dahl, Paul Jennings, Anne of Green Gables, and Enid Blyton were my faves.

    Audio books were also great - I had a lot of Roald Dahl. And now - I bought a CD set of Dahl's works on eBay for oldtime (mid 90s) memories.

    Mum also spent a long time at home bathing me, doing my dressings if I needed them, and doing my scalp on a nightly basis. During this time, she and I would make up stories together. Not quite reading, but it was getting me creatively thinking.

    I don't know if these suggestions will help. Don't blame yourself though. Some people just don't read. I don't read much fiction now I'm reading non fiction for uni, but I read a lot of media.


  3. Maggie
    I think alot of children just fall into things at a time that is right for them. Being surrounded by books and being read to will eventually rub off. So long as they are in a conducive environment, the rest will follow.

    How about tying in books to Peggy's interests? I remember, as a child, after going out on an adventure with mum and dad, my dad would read interesting facts about whatever it was to my brothers and I. It's a habit that has stuck, except now I google and wiki.

    Also your stat about new bloggers is illuminating. I have written way more than 6 posts which is crazy for a blog less than 2 months old. I have way too much to say. But perhaps this is good and will predict blog longevity.

    Hope you're having a fabulous Sunday!

    SSG xxx

  4. I agree with Hammie, the Judy Blume books were read to us by my 4th grade teacher and we all would sit captivated- fudge, Superfudge- they were/ are brilliant... you have done everything right- reading to her from a young age etc and she will come around one day, she just has to found the book that makes her feel that magic feeling.
    I am just about to write my 200th blogpost! I am totally addicted- no chance of me quitting now.

  5. I got the "bug", the reading bug, at about 7.5, and I know my parents were fretting that I would never "get it". Same too, for my elder brother who was recently worried that his son, my nephew, would not "get it. It appears that for all of my siblings and I, and now the next generation, that Enid Blyton hits the mark. (I read them to my just 6 year old. These days they make me cringe, but she loves them.) I am just hoping that she picks up where I can leave off.........

  6. My youngest brother did not enjoy reading at Peggy's age. I got him books like 'All right vegemite' and 'Unreal banan peel', which were full of short rhymes and silly poems that kids would say.
    He progressed on to Paul Jennings and Morris Gleitzman, then on to the Narnia series.
    I think as Sydney Shop Girl says, tying in to Peggy's interests is important. The Saddle Club series is great for little girls who love riding. You just need to find that hook to get her reading. Good luck :)

  7. In my extremely humble opinion, the range of tv shows and movies and video games are far more exciting and instantly rewarding than books. If there were times when these brain-lollies were simply unavailable (weekends? Sundays? After dinner?) and you were similarly unavailable to read to her, after some fuss and bother she might dip into the world of books and find treasure, as we all did before they were an option.
    I'm trying to crowbar my son away from the Wii to put this into action - if I have any success at all I'll let you know :)

  8. I've been an avid reader my entire life and can't imagine a life without reading.

    Have you tried dedicated reading time where you both sit quietly in the same room for say, half an hour and read your own books together? You could even discuss them afterwards, which will reinforce what she's reading and that you and she have a shared interest. At that age, girls generally still want to be close to their Mums and this could be "your time".

    If that fails, how about bribery in the form of a reading chart where she receives a reward after reading a specific number of books?

    I would also cut back on the tv and electronic entertainment time - perhaps these could be only allowed on weekends?

    Good luck inspiring the reading bug!

  9. OK, so I have a 9 year old boy who is a recalcitrant reader. It is, from what I can see, a vicious circle. You see, he was late to read (young for his age at school, being a boy, seeing his peers steam ahead in reading while he was still faltering etc) and I think it started from a base of embarrassment (that the books he liked/were reading were not of a similar calibre - chapter books etc - of his peers) and then of his personal interest.

    He's not into Harry Potter, dragons, super hero children, wizards or other characters typical of books boys his age apparently adore.

    Here I was with a child who was conventionally not a reader but knew every Pokemon character (do you know just how many of those infernal creatures exist?) and what their skills were.

    I gave thanks for Morris Gleitzman and Andy Griffiths - books which were fun and naughty (kids love fun and naughty) that had a proper story line and characters but with cartoons and drawings and humour.

    But even then the reading was sporadic.

    My mum (who lives upstairs) took to reading Roald Dahl with him (The Witches, The Fantastic Mr Fox, Matilda) which he enjoyed but I doubt would have read them of his own accord.

    Then The Diary of a Wimpy Kid came along and suddenly he was in the zone of the house could be on fire but nothing would distract him. Again - funny, naughty, all about real kids his age.

    But still that, 'can we go to the library', 'Muuuuum, I need something to read' isn't there.

    So here's my take on it (and the advice from his teachers) we have to throw away our conventional idea of what constitutes 'a reader'.

    Does she like to cook? Reading recipes and cooking magazines is reading.

    Does she like to draw? Reading cartoons is reading.

    Does she like fashion? Reading magazines is reading.

    I KNOW. I struggle with that concept every day.

    But here's the thing, it's whatever engages them - and foster that because otherwise the vicious cycle begins - they don't read so their spelling drops off, then their comprehension skills and creative writing fall away because they're not picking up the skills and getting the idea from their reading. And so on and so forth.

    It's so hard!

    If you create such an environment then it will eventually happen, but in her own good time. It might be in the next few months, or maybe year or two or hell, might take until she's a teenager or even out of school (I have quite a few friends in this category and their reading now puts me, the ultimate bookish child, to absolute shame).

    So just find what it is that interests her and accept that 'being a reader' does not necessarily mean they're sitting there with their nose in a book.

  10. Have you tried the Aussie Nibbles series? They are generally funny with illustrations. From there readers move onto the Aussie Bites, then Aussie Chomps as their reading progresses.
    My Miss 7.5 loves them.

  11. Enjoy reading to her, that time will never come again and is really
    precious. I still read poetry to my 11 year old. I was reading novels to him until he was 10. He has been through a series of reading phases. Seven and half was when he clicked into reading per se but for the next two years he re-read cartoons like Asterix and Tin Tin over and over. From about nine he would read novels but nothing too challenging or long. At 10.5 he finally started to read the long, illustrationless novel series. All along, he has done brilliantly at English in school so I have known that he loved words and books but just didn't want to go into the stories unaccompanied. Now he does. Your daughter will take off when she is ready.

  12. PS I work with words too and I was also an avid novel reader from an early age so I angsted about my son's difference from me ( some of which I could put down to his different gender, maybe). But lots of people told me that as long as he liked to listen to stories and to read - even if the reading was at a simpler level than I thought he should be at - then he was fine. And that has proven to be true. I have worked hard to keep up a supply of books and magazines (try and get her subscriptions to children's magazines, even if it's just The Beano) and factual books and Horrible Histories and the sports sections of newspapers - anything at all to keep him reading. Meanwhile I have read lovely books like Edith Nesbit's Five Children and It to him and discovered some fantastic children's literature which I would never have read on my own. So enjoy...

  13. Wow, so many good ideas here. My 7.5yo loves reading, but hasn't always. One of the things we do is take turns to read aloud - one page for him, one for me. He still gets to hear the correct way (pausing at punctuation, correct pronunciation, etc) and gets to have a go himself, check on meaning, pronunciation, etc. One of our other tricks came about because he's an horredously early riser - he's allowed to turn his light on and read in bed at 6am but not get out of bed till 6.30. He loved the Aussie Nibbles books and is onto Aussie Bites, still giggles his way through Dr Suess, is completely invovled with Zac Power and delights in Andy Griffiths - most especially the rudeness of the Bad Book. He has reached a point where he gets that a lot of movies are based on books and after seeing a film will ask if there's a book about it. In the last few months he has hit the point of head-stuck-in-book-while-truck-crashes-through-house-ness and I love it... except when I'm calling him to do his chores LOL.

  14. My daughter also adores Eloise, and, at the age of 10 is still enchanted by Milly Molly Mandy {as is her mother!}

  15. I am so glad that I found your blog Maggie. I will follow it with interest now. We live in Italy and so my kids have to 'read' Italian first and it means that as a result their English reading has suffered. I tend to read to them, they are 8 and 9 years of age, to make sure that they are exposed to English text. We have lots and lots of books. I picked up a couple of Andy Griffiths books when I was last at home (in Australia). And my Robin Klein books are within reach, as I really want to share those with my daughter. I tend to buy lots of books from UK Amazon. They are starting to show an interest in reading themselves, but it has been a long process. My daughter has many of the Nina Fairy ballerina books, most of which I read to her, but the latest one she is slowly reading to herself. My son's current challenge is to read a Jules Verne book, but that is in Italian!

  16. My 8 yr old has been able to read well since before kindy.That has never meant that he has a passion for it.In kindy he read the Tashi series but other than that not much without battle.In yr 1 he read the Narnia Chronicles but last yr (2) he hardly read a thing.having said that he probably read lots of things but they were not what I though he should be reading.At the moment I am reading the Secret Garden to both of the boys but then I leave them to read alone for a while.Dragonology has grabbed his attention and so has Dragon Dawn.I dont ask him to read anymore-I just borrow or buy books and leave them strategically around the house.
    What about something like Charlottes Webb? or Clarice Bean? The Magic faraway Tree was one of my most treasured stories as a child and he did love to read that but it also had the novelty of being my old book. Geronimo Stilton is lots of fun too and I noticed that you can get them here in English now.I think sometimes continuous text is simply intimidating for some children to be honest.Its literally in the last couple of months that Henry vanishes to read of his own volition.I cannot tell you how exciting it is for me to see that!
    Sorry-that is reaaaally long.

  17. I wouldn't worry, Maggie. She's still very young, and it may be that kids who are voracious, independent readers at 7 and a half are the exception rather than the rule. You're doing everything right: it's a book rich environment, she enjoys reading with you, I would just let her hit her straps with her reading in her own time. Too much perceived pressure and she may back off. Reading should be pleasurable, and she's enjoying being read to, so stick with that, make sure you taker her to the library so she can learn to browse to develop her owns tastes, and she'll fine.

    But also be prepared that maybe reading just won't be her thing. She may not be the kind of person who devours books, as you are, and that's OK too—and I say that as someone who earns her living from encouraging kids to read! But the person who said we need to expand our ideas of what constitutes valid reading is dead right. It's not just novels—if a child enjoys reading magazines or non-fiction, we should value that as highly as the child who loses herself in a novel.

    In any case, she's still very young and has plenty of time to find her way to reading. I just don't think there's anything for you to worry about, from what you've described.

  18. I read somewhere that a study had been done which revealed that children who see their parents reading were more likely to become readers themselves (and that this was more important than reading to them). I thought that was interesting. Is your reading time when your daughter is around?

  19. Some fabulous advice and reading suggestions here. Apparently fed up with waiting for a parent to read more of The Magic Faraway Tree to me, I picked up the book and completed it myself aged 5 and a half. I have been a voracious reader ever since. Enid Blytons were much loved but equally with other childrens literature. I adored The Secret Garden, Peter Pan and Anne of Green Gables.

    I lived in India as a child and television was very limited (the only thing I can remember seeing in English was Charles and Di's wedding!). My parents are convinced that the absence of TV helped foster my love of reading.

    Audio books (as Carly Findlay suggested) also introduced me to books that I would not have chosen to read and ended up loving. I have a very strong memory of driving through rural India and listening to Alice in Wonderland on cassette in the car!

    If you continue to read aloud to her and demonstrate your own love for books, I am confident that one day she too will be a book worm! Emma

  20. I'm a reading addict! There I said it... the books that started this were books by Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and random authors that 'clicked' with me. Further proof to this is my husband, who at the age of 32 became a 'reader'. This is a guy who would fall asleep after one page. We are now fighting for space on MY book shelves - all because he found an author who he 'clicked' with.
    On another note, my brother didn't read for years because he felt so much pressure to read from my Mum, it seemed as though as soon as she stopped shoving books down his throat, he loved it!
    Good Luck.

  21. Maggie, your daughter will love to read ... in her own time. She is surrounded by bibliophiles and books and she loves the story process, so she will eventually fall into reading. The same happened with my son. I read to him almost since birth, but he was still slow to take off. Now he's 17 and doesn't stop reading. Peggy will be the same.

  22. Paul Jennings has written some interesting books about children and reading, most significantly The Reading Bug. It's all about helping parents help their children to develop a love of reading. It also has a list of books he thinks are great.

    7 is not terribly old, and it's not surprising that at that age she sill likes you reading to her.

    My kids were still reading picture books and only starting tiny chapter books at that age.

    You probably don't need author recommendations - writing is your life. But I just loved Tim Winton's The Bugalugs Bum Thief, and just about anything by Paul Jennings (but the books are very dense with text, so you might want to wait a while). They are deliciously naughty.

    Emily Rodda is another great author for mid/upper primary - The Rowan of Rin series are lovely. And a bookseller once told me that the Deltora Quest books were the most shoplifted in his store, so they must have been popular!

    I agree that some of the Aussie Nibbles books are super - they commission good writers to create them, so they aren't necessarily mass-generated tripe.

    Good luck!

  23. I don't agree it is anything to do with T.V. It is simply a natural inclination to books or not. I could have watched T.V. all the time and I didn't.

  24. i have had the same frustration with my 3 children and none read the way i did as a child but ,as with us all,their lives are so different to mine as a child-there is organised sport, music , tv computers, and none of those long free hours where one lay on the bed and simply read a book. nevertheless i have found a few things seem to enable more independent and sustained reading
    -having friends and contemporaries who like to read validates reading and even a spirit of healthy competitiveness
    -limit tv and screen
    -series create the appetite for more
    - vary texts-my teenage son will not read much fiction but devoured the biography of ben cousins and other footballers and also enjoyed badlands by tony wheeler . However it's still me feeding him books! i want that independent and self motivated reading!


    Enjoy reading this!

  26. i too was a total bookworm as a child (volunteer library monitor at lunchtimes, regularly found sleeping on bookshelves in libraries...), but my favourites were often books my mother had read as a child.

    i loved having her 'old' editions of the Enid Blyton school stories (Katy, St.Clare's, Mallory Towers), all the Paddington books, Little Women, Narnia, etc.

    But fear not, one can come through a childhood obsession with low-brow books - Baby Sitters Club anyone? - and still emerge a literate adult!

  27. Just like you I'm a very greedy reader. I too was dismayed when my middle daughter showed no inclination to bury her head in books. She was classed as a "good" reader by her teacher but just wasn't interested in books. Her first foray into chapter books were the dreaded fairy/mermaid series but she soon grew bored.

    I found the most wonderful series from America called Junie B Jones about a little girl who tries very hard to be good but gets herself into very difficult situations. They are hilarious and you will be delighted by them as well. My daughter loved them and read practically every one. They started her on her reading path.

    I also wanted to her to read the Harry Potter series a little later. Her brother had read them when he was about 8. She wouldn't, so I bought the CD books narrated by Stephen Fry - total bliss - she became totally addicted and couldn't wait to go up to her room at about 6pm (!) each night to hear the next instalment before going to sleep.

    I decided that if she didn't want to read them she should still be exposed to such a wonderful story and Mr Fry does such a fantastic job I would lie in bed with her listening to them. As we got further into the series, I would make her read the next book before we started the next lot of CD's. This was before most of the movies were released though, so she had no idea how each volume would end. We still do CD stories at bedtime - we've listened to most of the classics read by amazing british actors. See BBC radio 7 and look up BIg Toe Books online. I order our copies from our local (aussie) Library

    She's now quite happy to read books that interest her. She's just finished the Twilight saga - I wasn't so keen on that personally, but who am I to censor her choice? Of course most of her friends have only seen the movies and she has her star moments when she can actually tell them what happens in the last book.

    In my quest to help my kids choose great books I found out about the Caldecot and Newbery medal awarded by children's librarians in the US. Go to Barnes and Noble children's book site for more info. Unlike some other literary prizes, most of the past winners/nominees are very readable and my kids really enjoy them.

    Good luck and I hope you succeed in passing on your love of books.

  28. it's simple; just take them somewhere like say London and spend a couple of hours in places like The British War Museum's children's museum and wander off for a couple of hours. You will come back thinking they have been looking at the exhibits but no they will have finally decided that reading is the best thing since sliced bread

  29. Milly Molly Mandy was a hit at this age for my daughter.