Christmas may be cancelled, but at least we’ve almost made it to the end of 2020. Congratulations! It’s been a particularly challenging year. I know each of us has had different experiences, and different stresses, whether we’re key workers, home educators, shielding ourselves or our loved ones, furloughed, seen our businesses closed for months on end… I can’t be the only person with a whole lot more grey hair now. Having only been to the hairdresser twice this year, if I hadn’t discovered my husband was actually quite handy with a bottle of hair dye, it would be a lot more obvious!
Anyway, here’s to a more fun filled 2021.
Book club news!
I’m very excited to announce that the book boxes have been rebranded so the KidsClub.family is now the BookDragon.club There were a few reasons for this. Partly, it ties to the name of one of my books, The Book Dragon Club, but more importantly, I hope it will be more obvious what it does – a lot of people thought the old name sounded like an activity centre or playgroup. If you haven’t had a look, do check it out.
If you join before the year end, then your first book box will be posted out at the start of January, and I can send an e-gift card (which might be very handy given the festive chaos we’ve all just had thrown at us).
Whatever else 2021 brings, let’s fill it with books!
I wasn’t sure what book to wrap up the year with, but Alex Johnson has solved my problem! He has an eclectic range of books out with several quirky treats (e.g. The Book of Book Lists). Anyway, he has a new one out published by the British Library which ticks the boxes for my book club and parent hats, and I love the cover.
I asked him to join me for a chat.
What I remember about reading as a child is as much the pleasurable experience of it as the actual books. So while I have fond recollections of Noggin the Nog, Mumfie, Tintin, and Mr Rabbit and the Lovely Present, what is just as strong is the emotional memory of reading in bed (especially – cliché klaxon – under the covers with a torch), in the garden, on holiday, and especially being read to by my parents.
The only real rule about encouraging your children to read – and now that we’re going back into lockdown there will be even more time for doing so – is that it should be enjoyable. However you plan to encourage them, the most important thing is that reading doesn’t become a chore or, even worse, some kind of punishment. “Get off that Xbox and read a good book” is unlikely to lead to success.
Children turn into readers when they find a book they like, and as soon as books make them feel happy, they’re hooked for life. This means encouraging them however they read. Are they rereading an old favourite for the billionth time? Smashing, rereading is not only a key part of understanding a book but it’s also comforting. Are they engrossed in a Dandy annual? Great, reading comics/graphic novels is great fun – my youngest boy spent a large amount of the first lockdown alternating between Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights trilogy and my 1980s Tiger & Scorcher annuals. One is not better than the other.
Having said that, don’t keep encouraging them to read something you loved as a child if they’re not keen. Guide and suggest, but as far as possible, let them make the choice themselves. I (still) love Anthony Buckeridge’s series of books about the schoolboy Jennings (less magical than Harry Potter, less mischievous than William Brown). My three children swiftly decided against. That’s absolutely fine.
An important way to keep children reading is to encourage them to read all kinds of things. So whether it’s a novel or a poem, a history book or a science guide, a travelogue or a comic, diaries or jokes, a biography or a picture book, variety is the spice of reading life. Although library visits are down on last year for obvious reasons, think about using e-lending services which have seen a massive rise in use in 2020. As well as ‘traditional’ books, ebooks are well worth considering. There’s a lot to explore online too. For example, try Poetryline run by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education at clpe.org.uk/poetryline or search for the work of performance poets such as Kate Tempest and Caleb Femi.
And don’t forget that audiobooks are books too. People not only learn in different styles but they also enjoy stories in different ways. Traditional books don’t suit everybody and audiobooks should certainly not be seen as some kind of fraudulent replacement for a ‘worthy’ hardback in the hand. Storytelling, after all, is far older than reading a printed book.The biggest commercial player in the audiobook market is Audible, owned by Amazon, but do search out other options too such as Listening Books (www.listening-books.org.uk).
As I mentioned above, one of the nicest ways of encouraging your child to read is to do it together and read to them. This is important to do when times are normal, but now everybody is unsettled this is a particularly excellent way of comforting your child. You absolutely don’t have to be a professional actor to read out loud, but do put plenty of emotion into it (I’ve always rather enjoyed doing ‘voices’ even though they are often rather mixed up – my sons gleefully pointed out that the dwarves in The Hobbit appeared to change which part of the country they came from every other reading session) and don’t go too fast – everybody tends to read too quickly. Older children who have not been read to for a while might also now enjoy this again.
As well as reading, it’s good to discuss the books your child is reading. Chatting about books is a huge part of the reading experience and enjoyable for both you and your child. Ask questions which make them think about what they’re reading or encourage them to look for answers in another book, rather than simply lobbing information at them (but remember they’re not doing a school test on it so don’t turn it into an interrogation!). If you’re reading something together, don’t whizz through it as fast as possible, but pause regularly to discuss issues that it raises and connections to other books your child may have read. Think of yourself as a ‘reading mentor’ rather than a broadcaster.
Lastly, don’t let your child have all the fun. You should read too. Not only is it enjoyable, if your son or daughter sees you reading then they are much more likely to follow your lead.
Parent/ teacher alert
You can get your book wall off to a nice start in January as Alex has offered to send a personalised postcard to anyone who shares a picture of them with their copy of his book on social media and tags me. [UK only – sorry]
Before I log off now until the new year, I want to wish you all a very happy holidays, stay safe, take care, and see you in 2021!