Sharing a Story for a Lifelong Love of Learning

 

Jess Black is the author of 26 chapter books for children. Her two latest series are Keeper of the Crystals, a four book fantasy adventure for 7-9 years; and The Kaboom Kid, cowritten with David Warner about a young boy named Davey who is constantly getting into trouble because all he wants to do is play cricket! Jess lives in Newcastle. www.jessblack.com.au

 

 

There are countless articles written about boys being reluctant readers and parents agonising over how to get their boys to read. I have had a similar experience except that my own reluctant reader is a girl. My daughter Maggie (6) finds it difficult to concentrate at the best of times and getting her to sit still is virtually impossible. She’s a very strong, physical girl who likes to ‘do’. So imagine my disappointment when I try to read with her each night and I see she’s not engaged. In fact she’s making her reluctance very clear. I come from a family of readers and cannot imagine what it would be like to not see the fun and excitement of a story, especially when it’s being read to you!

 

Both my husband and I worked at Scholastic for years and collected a fantastic library of stories for our daughters. But it didn’t seem to matter what I suggested for Maggie she would pull a face at story time. As an author who is used to kids being very excited to have me visit their school and read to them, I found Maggie’s reaction baffling. Here was mother/daughter time. Here was my undivided attention. Yet she still rejected it or asked if she could do a puzzle or play a game instead. Anything rather than read. It made me sad and frustrated but I had to be careful to hide my feelings. Nagging and pleading was not going to work and might alienate her further. How was I going to get this child to enjoy story time and later, reading?

 

I bought fairy books. I bought friendship books. I bought branded books from shows and movies she liked. None of it worked. Just as I was beginning to tear my hair out I saw it. I knew as soon as I saw the cover of Lulu Bell and the Koala Joey that this would be a book Maggie would like. The chapter book featured a blonde haired girl with a big smile on the cover. She looked a lot like Maggie. She was wearing a wetsuit and standing next to a pink surfboard. Maggie loves swimming and is coveting her own pink surfboard for Christmas.

 

Maggie reacted just as I thought she would. She pestered me all afternoon to read the book to her. That night I read it from cover to cover. And she listened completely engaged. I knew I’d struck a chord. Lulu and Maggie share many character traits. They are both a little bossy, full of life, love animals and both have a little sister. Now, I just had to keep it going. We have seven Lulu Bell books now and I also took Maggie to meet Belinda Murrell when she visited Newcastle for Book Week.
Having Belinda sign her books was a thrill for Maggie and that moment left a lasting impression on her.


For a while I was worried about what to do when we ran out of Lulu Bell books but it doesn’t seem to matter. She has had enough exposure to the joy of stories that she’s open to other books now and has even begun reading her own copies of Billy B Brown.

 

So why is reading books important? Sharing stories, talking and singing every day helps your child’s development. You’re helping your child become familiar with sounds, words, language and the value of books. This all builds your child’s early literacy skills and sparks your child’s imagination, stimulates curiosity and helps with brain development. Exploring stories also helps your child learn the difference between ‘real’ and ‘make-believe’ and might help develop her own ideas. Reading or telling stories can also be safe ways to explore strong emotions, which can help your child understand change, as well as new or frightening events.


I have spoken to primary aged children in countless schools around NSW over the last nine years. I’m
invited to visit the school to get the kids pumped about books and reading and their own story telling. These experiences have taught me a few things:

  • Every child has a passion. Something they are good at and enjoy doing. All readers like to identify with their own image of themselves. They need to be hooked in by relating to the character they are reading about. I think that too often teachers and parents can get caught up with pushing their child to read ‘worthy’ books. I would suggest letting them read anything that gets them to like reading.

  • Don’t put their choice of reading material down. Encourage them with their reading by showing an active interest. When I’m in schools and talk to kids about the books they love they light up. Offer to read some of the book out loud to them. Having a parent read with a child means close proximity to the adult they are always trying to get attention from. Even if it’s not the most worthy of titles, they will one day progress to something else. Once they have been bitten by that bug.

  • Be a reading role model. Let your kids see you reading at home. I realised recently that at home my husband and I are often relax by looking at our phones or watching TV. We tend to save reading for when we are in bed. Our kids need to see us reading in order to value it.

  • Make reading fun! Even if your child is older you can read to them. Put on silly voices. Act out the story. Kids love to laugh, they love jokes and silliness and mayhem.

  • Check out what’s happening around town. Newcastle and Lake Macquarie libraries offer story time sessions for younger kids. They also hold author talks, writing workshops and book launches year round for kids reading picture books and chapter books. Being able to meet an author and chat to them leaves a deep impression on a child.

  • Rather than buying a toy or a treat as a reward - buy a book! Macleans Booksellers in Hamilton has an excellent children’s section and the staff there are friendly and knowledgeable about books and can help you select something age appropriate.

  • Numerous theatres around town will show plays and musicals based on popular books. This year alone the Civic Theatre hosted The Cranky Bear, The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show, and the 26 Storey Tree House.

  • Be consistent with reading at home. Reading every night is ideal but not always possible. Reading should be part of the family routine just as bath time and brushing teeth is.

Jess Black is the author of 26 chapter books for children. Her two latest series are Keeper of the Crystals, a four book fantasy adventure for 7-9 years; and The Kaboom Kid, cowritten with David Warner about a young boy named Davey who is constantly getting into trouble because all he wants to do is play cricket! Jess lives in Newcastle. www.jessblack.com.au

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