Monday, 22 February 2016

Reading for Pleasure

Today we are roughly 14% of the way through this year. I am currently at 12% of my way through reading the fifty books that I've challenged myself to read this year. I love reading, and as a child I remember myself to be voracious when it came to books, but as an adult I've allowed all sorts of other things to push books out of my routine. I've always liked reading but for about two thirds of my life I have not been actively enjoying books. There has been a gradual ascent as I began to realise that I should just read the books that I want to read rather than attempting to read the books that I thought I should read. Now I truly read for pleasure and I really enjoy it.

And it has been my attempts to generate those same feelings in ten and eleven year olds that have simultaneously kindled them in me. I'm not ashamed to say that I read a lot of books intended for children or young adults. Two series of books particularly grabbed me: Philip Reeves' 'Mortal Engines' books and Rosemary Sutcliff's trilogy of books about Roman Britain (beginning with 'The Eagle of the Ninth'). Out of all those books I only read one to my class yet it was the start of something good for me.

Last year, at school, we invested heavily in class sets of 'real' books and, as such, the beginning of this academic year saw me and my class reading the excellent 'Noah Barleywater Runs Away' by John Boyne (of 'The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas' fame, a book which I subsequently devoured because I loved 'Noah Barleywater...' so much). 'Noah...' was a triumph ("sick book, innit, sir?"). After reading one magical novel my children were hooked ("What we reading next, sir? I bet it's not as good as 'Noah Barleywater'"). We picked up 'Tom's Midnight Garden' which they couldn't get into (I think largely on account of the fact as city-dwellers they don't understand the concept of having a garden) so we exercised our right as readers not to finish a book - something I do regularly ('We Need To Talk About Kevin', Jo Nesbo's 'The Redeemer'). Then, after reading it myself (in an evening, no less), we started 'Hitler's Canary' by Sandi Toksvig, and once again they're captivated (I've caught them trying smuggle copies home, and even worse, trying to skip to the end); it's their new favourite book. I read 'Carrie's War' last week, and whilst I love the book, I don't think it's for my class - they need their next favourite book, not just the next book. As teachers we need to make wise choices (which to pick up, which to put down) and to do that we need to know the kids in our class(es). I'm hoping to get a class set of 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas'; they've been enamoured by World War Two, of which they knew very little about, and I'm keen for them to find out more without actually having to teach a topic on it: the beauty of a good novel.

Now, the children in my class, after years of disinterest, are in the initial stage of what I hope will be a life-long relationship with books. They're discovering new words, new worlds, new ideas, new people and old history. I've seen it clearly impact on their writing; vocabulary, idioms and other turns-of-phrase magpied and used as their own. I use these books to teach whole class sessions, but the less I say about that the better, although I'm a strong advocate of it and a disliker of traditional guided reading. If we want children to love reading, then the first step in my experience is to read to them - speak aloud the thoughts and questions you have, the links you're making and the delight you find in particular phrasings. Read with expression; bring the book alive. Starting the day in this way does as much for me as it does the kids: win/win.

This week my wife, who is beating me in the Fifty Book Challenge, gave me a copy of John Green's debut YA novel 'Looking for Alaska' and whilst it's definitely not one I'll be reading to my class, it's such an amusing read - definitely more appealing than most of those a Penguin books the government want to flog to secondary schools. I suppose reading is rather a personal thing - I don't usually read based on recommendation - a well-designed cover, a familiar author or a decent bit of blurb is enough to pique my interest. Many of the books I've read on recommendation are ones I've not finished.

If there's any point to this post it is this: everyone can enjoy a book, but a book won't be enjoyed by everyone.

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