Why Don’t Children Read More? (part 3)

I tutor a couple of children who hate reading. I don’t mean they’d rather play football or computer games than read,  I mean they’d rather gargle saltwater than pick up a book. It’s always a challenge to find something that children like this will read.

I thought about getting them to read magazines or comics instead, but there doesn’t seem to be the same range of titles or quality of articles as there used to be.

I’m going to show my age now, but when I was younger there were age-appropriate magazines with a range of types of writing inside. For younger girls there was Girl, and for the older ones, Jackie. They had photo stories, full length written stories, page-long articles about how to apply make-up, problem pages. It wasn’t just the girly girls who were catered for. My friends and I used to read Shoot, which had interviews with all our favourite football players, discussions about tactics, a letters/opinions page…. There was also Look-in with features about TV shows and several comic strip stories.

I recently scoured the children’s magazine section of a large newsagents, looking for something suitable, but with only a couple of exceptions, there is nothing. I know that people get up-in-arms about the phrase ‘dumbing down’, but in my opinion that is what has happened to children’s magazines. The emphasis seems to be more on the free gifts than the content, which seems to consist of lots of photos of celebrities and/or footballers with a two-line caption under each one, and pages of word searches and spot the difference puzzles. I picked up magazine after magazine and found them all to be the same.

The only exceptions were First News and National Geographic for Kids. Both of these have interesting and informative articles of a reasonable length, with the quality of writing I want my pupils to be producing themselves. The two pupils I mentioned at the beginning of this piece have enjoyed both of these publications. If only there were more magazines of this calibre.

How can we ever hope to encourage our children to read more if we don’t provide them with good quality alternatives to books?

What about you? If you have found any good alternatives I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Why Don’t Children Read More? (part 2)

I have read 13 books so far this year. Many of them have contained at least one mistake, and a few of them have been so riddled with mistakes I couldn’t help wondering whether the publishing company had even heard of the concept of proofreading. I’m not even talking about just typos. Typos are annoying, and they should be picked up before a book goes to print, but even proof-readers are human and I can understand why the odd one slips through here and there. I’m talking about huge, glaring mistakes that spoil my enjoyment of a book because they don’t make sense.

I read a book once where the names of all the characters changed for one chapter in the middle of a book! That was highly confusing, but as an adult I worked out that the writer had changed the character names part way through writing, and forgotten to alter them in one chapter. Imagine what a child would have thought in a similar situation.

I read another book that contained the sentence: “Things are haveing (sic) to have a lot worse get before they better.” Ok, so I worked out what it meant – that’s beside the point. Coming across a sentence like this throws me out of the story and makes it harder to engage with the characters.

When there are errors like these every 2 to 3 pages, I feel like giving up and hurling the book across the floor. I love reading, so if errors in books make me want to give up, I imagine the temptation would be 100 times greater for a child who is already reluctant to read. Is it any wonder then if they don’t bother?

So far I have looked at libraries and the quality of books as reasons why children might not read. Tomorrow I’ll look at the last reason I have thought of. Do you have thoughts on why children don’t read more? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Why Don’t Children Read More? (part 1)

Whose Fault is it that children don’t read?

Why don’t children read more? It’s a question I’m always asking myself and never finding an answer to. When your job is to help children improve their writing and reading comprehension skills, you quite often find yourself hitting a wall (not literally, obviously) because they don’t read enough. Sometimes I feel like sinking to my knees and saying, “Please – please – please just READ” But at the end of the day, is it their fault that they don’t?

A few years ago I worked with one particular boy who didn’t ever read. I kept trying to tempt him with little snippets from books, but nothing took his fancy, until one day he suddenly said, “Miss, this one is brilliant. Can we read some more of it?” I explained that I didn’t have the whole book, but told him that he would be able to get it from his local library. He was a little concerned about the cost, and didn’t quite believe me when I told him that it was free, but he agreed to go.

The following Monday morning he came to find me to tell me what an exciting place the library was. “I’ve never seen so many books to choose from, Miss, and you can take out lots of books in case you don’t like one of them, and it’s all free and everything.”

Of course, if he went these days he’d probably find it closed.

In a city the size of Birmingham, you’d think gaining access to books would be easy. Not so, as I discovered over the Christmas holidays. We are getting a new multi-million pound building for our library as the current one is so out-dated. It doesn’t open till September though, but the “current” one is as good as closed – all of the reference sections have been packed up ready for the move, so if you want to do some research, as I do, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait another 6 months.

The nearby town of Sutton Coldfield doesn’t have a library either. It closed over a year ago for refurbishment. There are no signs of any refurb happening, and no indication that it will ever reopen.

My local library used to open 5 ½ days a week, with two late nights. It’s now open 5 days, but closes at 5 o’clock each day – no good for parents who would like to take their children to the library after work.

If we make it so difficult for children to gain access to books, is it any wonder that so many of them don’t want to make the effort.

Is this the only reason that children don’t read? Of course not, and I’ll talk about other reasons in a future post, but it really doesn’t help.

R is for…

R is for…Reading. The more you read the more ideas you will have for your own writing. There are so many different sorts of books around, you are sure to find something you like. Ask your friends what sort of books they enjoy and see if they can recommend some.

Most children like Harry Potter, but if you find them a bit difficult to read you might like to try Charlie Bone instead. He is another boy who goes to wizard school. If you enjoyed learning about ancient Greece in your topic lessons, you might enjoy Percy Jackson. Lots of girls like the Rainbow Fairies, the Magic Ponies and books by Jaqueline Wilson.

If you’re not very keen on fiction books, you could try some of the My Story books. Although they are not completely true stories, they have an element of truth in them, so you will learn a lot about different periods in history.

Why not pop down to your local library and talk to the children’s librarian? If you tell them what sort of things interest you, they will help you find the perfect book for you.

Related post: Q is for…     S is for…

Summer Reading

It’s the summer holidays. Hopefully everyone is enjoying the time off, but if you or your young ones are getting bored, why not have a look at these books?

For KS1: Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat by Ursula Williams. This is an old book now – I remember reading it when I was a child myself – but it’s still just as appealing now as it was then. You can’t help but feel sorry for poor Gobbolino who really doesn’t want to be a witch’s cat. The story tells of his adventures as he searches for a home where he can be just a normal cat.

KS2: Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. Poor Percy Jackson doesn’t realise that he’s a demi-god until one of his teachers tries to kill him. After that his life gets seriously turned upside-down when he discovers that his best friend is a satyr and that the god of war really has it in for him If, like me, you have an interest in Greek mythology these books are even more special, but even if you’ve never been a fan of classical history the Percy Jackson series is a great read that will appeal to boys and girls alike. Start with Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and just keep going! I’ve finished this series, but on my summer reading list I have the second series: The Heroes of Olympus.

KS3: The Everlost Trilogy by Neal Shusterman. What happens when you die if you don’t end up where you are supposed to be? You end up in Everlost, and the only ways to avoid sinking into the centre of the earth are to keep moving or to find a ‘dead spot’ (a place where somebody else has died) to stand on. Everlost is divided into those who want to help the lost souls find their way to where they should be, and those who want to stop them. With a cast including pirates, ogres and people who can take over the bodies of the living, there is quite a battle. For younger readers it’s just a good read – for older readers it has quite an existential feel – Jean-Paul Sartre would have been proud!

KS4:Unwind (also by Neal Shusterman). This one covers some quite gritty issues. Imagine a world where it is illegal to terminate a pregnancy, but when your child reaches the age of 13 you can change your mind. If you decide that having your child was a mistake you can apply to have them ‘unwound’, which involves every single part of their body being used in transplants to save other people’s lives. How would you feel if you had grown up believing your family loved you until the day the authorities come to unwind you? How would you feel if you had grown up in a family that believe in donating 10% of their possessions to charity, and you are their 10th child? This book follows the lives of some children who are on the run to save their lives. To escape the ‘unwind order’, they must stay alive until they are 18.

Young Adults: There probably aren’t many people who haven’t already read Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy, but if you are one of them – what are you waiting for? It’s set in the future after there has been some sort of uprising, and the divide between the rich and the poor is very clearly defined. As a punishment for the uprising, the various districts are forced to enter two of their young people, one boy and one girl, into a contest where they have to fight to the death in the name of entertainment. Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark may be teenagers, but the action is tense and fast-paced enough to keep adults turning the pages as well. I have heard a few critics say that this book is just a rehash of Stephen King’s The Running Man, but to me this seems a bit harsh. It is true that The Running Man was probably more visionary at the time, because reality TV wasn’t the bulk of entertainment in those days, but The Hunger Games is more than just reality TV taken to extremes – especially as the plot unfolds further in the second and final books.

These are my recommendations for summer reading. What are yours? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.