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Make reading a choice, not a chore

Sarah Masters, curriculum librarian, Thomas Deacon Academy, explains why and how to stay connected to books while schools close for the summer

Summer is my prime reading time. I read what some might consider a lot year-round, but the reading I do over the summer is purely for my own, sometimes guilty, pleasure. As a librarian, most of my reading is work-based, such as trying out new authors, reading shortlisted award titles or when I need to check content. Do not get me wrong – many of these are great books, just not necessarily what I would choose to read. For example, reading the basketball-focused book, Rebound, when I am not into sports, preferring my Carnegie Shadowing Group. It is still a great book – just not ‘my thing’. However, what I gained was knowledge about the book so I can recommend it to readers for whom it might be the perfect fit. For the lazy-hazy days of summer spent in my garden chair, I will often save new books by my favourite authors, revisit old favourites or even ‘slum it’ with chick-lit.

I have never responded well to being told what to read and my aversion to set texts is still strong enough for me to have read nearly all of Margaret Atwood’s books apart from The Handmaid’s Tale, simply because it is often a ‘must read’ on many P16 literature book lists. Yet I adored Alias Grace, reading it in one summer day and forgetting to prepare tea that night.

My annual preparation for summer reading made me stop and reflect about the children and young adults in our academies, and why it should be any different for them. Why is there a greater emphasis on reading lists and books they ‘have to’ read when they too deserve to just kick-back over the summer and read whatever they want? Re-read an old favourite that might now be ‘too easy’ but allows them to switch off and hang out with old book friends. Or read a graphic novel or a series of comics back-to-back without stopping. Why not let them make their own reading choices without criticism?

As Neil Gaiman said, there really is “no such thing as a ‘bad’ book”. There are books that are considered by some to be ‘better written’ or have greater ‘literary value’, but reading is subjective and creating lifelong readers is about more than just accessing ‘improving literature’.

Reading for pleasure is about chilling with friends, visiting other lands and worlds, time-travelling, walking in someone else’s shoes and considering what you would do if you were picked to enter the Hunger Games. Alternatively, how would you answer the question at the end of the Carnegie shortlisted book, Long Way Down? We, as readers, cling to the stories we read, and from reading we can improve empathy, solidarity and understanding, sharing experiences both common and new, and not forgetting to just have plain good fun sometimes.

How can school librarians help?

Where would I rather our library books spend their summer break? On the library shelves, or off having adventures on the beach or in back gardens in the hands of a child or young adult? Unlike my childhood school library, where they recalled all books for a stocktake, TDA encourages our students to borrow books for the summer holiday. We recommend books for different year groups, and remind students about our eBook collection, which remains accessible 24/7 all year round.

How can teachers help?

Reading a book is an individual and personal activity, a private exchange between the author and the reader. A teacher can enable book conversations and discussions which can extend the reading experience. Read Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity”, and then we can talk about what happened on the bridge.

Read something contemporary. I’m not knocking Roald Dahl, and who doesn’t love a bit of Matilda, but literature for both children and young adults has moved on and there are fantastic modern classics waiting to be read. Also, as a teacher, you are more likely to be time-poor, so you are likely to find that children’s or YA books will be a quick but satisfying read. Ask your friendly librarian for a recommendation.

At TDA, we also run a staff summer reading challenge where we match staff with a book either from their favourite genre, or linked to their subject – or potluck. This empowers them to be a role model and talk about the book they have read, perhaps even recommending it to students.

How can parents help?

Having a home environment littered with books is a crucial part of creating book lovers. So too is seeing older relatives, especially menfolk, reading as a natural everyday occurrence. As children, we have all played at ‘being grownup’ and mimicking the behaviours we saw around us. If your children never see you read, why should they bother? Actions speak louder than words.

Consider the positive impacts of removing all electronic gadgets (TVs, games consoles, etc) from children’s’ bedrooms. And at the point where they become independent readers, get them a special reading light and let them stay up an extra 30 minutes past their bedtime to read each night. Additionally, if they sometimes read a bit longer because they could not put a book down, then do not worry about a few sleepy mornings; they will be worth it, having helped to create a lifelong reader.

If you have a child who is reluctant to read, then read to them, do the hard work for them. Pick a good book, perhaps one that has a film version. Then, when you are at an exciting bit, pause and say your throat is hurting and you can’t possibly read anymore tonight. If they insist say they can read a little bit more by themselves.

Stereotypes say that my teenage son and dyslexic daughter will not like books and reading. It is true, they do not like reading – they love it! Starting to read to and with children when they are very young is crucial, but it is never too late to start. Give them access to good books, pick up second-hand bargains and discounted titles from supermarkets, and borrow from libraries to involve them in choosing what they want to read. If they pick a book that has a film version, watch it together once they have finished reading the book; turn it into a family movie night with popcorn.

This summer, I am going to be re-reading the award winning His Dark Materials series. My Y8 daughter has just finished reading this for the first time, and the TV series will hit the screens this autumn. We are both very excited about seeing a certain polar bear…

Happy summer reading!

At SSAT, we’re fighting for social justice in education and we know that there is a responsibility to ensure that children leave school with a firm foundation in numeracy and literacy; to support this, we are delighted to be continuing our long relationship with Lexonik, our Literacy Partner.

References and resources

Shadowing Site: The CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Children’s Book Awards.

https://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/shadowing.php

Masters, Tim. (2013). Neil Gaiman: ‘No such thing as a bad book for children’. Available: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-24521225. Last accessed 20/6/2019.

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