11

Championing Children’s Reading

A Round Robin Post

This month, dear followers, we have been asked to address the following question:

How do you encourage reading in your children?

Despite my age and the impact technology has had on the formats that children read in, I have decided to begin with myself. A little self-indulgent, but somehow looking back at my own reading as a child feels like a good place to start. It also gave me an excuse to dig up some very old and sentimental books!

The very first book that I recall absolutely loving is An ABC for You and Me. It wasn’t just that, on the very first page, ‘Ann has an Apple’ (no matter that my name was spelt without an ‘e’, this book was clearly about me, even if in the form of cute mice, rabbits, squirrels and birds), it was also beautifully illustrated and an initial introduction to my future love: calligraphy. Learning the alphabet seemed secondary, as was probably intended, and the cute rhyme on the last pages (‘XYZ went off to bed at the end of the ABC’) perhaps also set me up for a future love of poetry.

Moving on to books with a few more words and a proper story, we come to the wonderful Molly Brett. A theme is already emerging here of how important pictures and illustrations can be in helping a child to engage. I just loved Molly’s beautiful pictures of nature and wildlife, and the stories just fitted in a very satisfactory way around the edges.

I didn’t move on far for my next memory, and predictably these books also featured animals as their main characters: come in Alison Uttley and the Little Grey Rabbit stories! I think that non-human characters are still very popular with children but perhaps the trend now days is for central characters to be human (perhaps more identifiable) – maybe on some kind of a quest. Of course that doesn’t stop an author going to town on an array of non-human characters – just consider J K Rowling and Harry Potter.

Alongside books with stories, I have always loved poetry. I was lucky to be given anthologies of poems when I was young, and who can resist the humorous poetry of people like A A Milne and Spike Milligan? I think you can see from the state of my copy of Now We Are Six just how much it was loved and read.  Humour and children – well that is definitely the winning combination!

My love of beautiful illustrations and wildlife (or perhaps my mother’s, as she was the purchaser of most of our mini-library of books) continued with books like the haunting Rustle of Spring. Nature and how it works allows difficult themes of cruelty and competition and survival to filter into children’s reading, and several of my books that had central animal stories brought me to tears.

Sadly I can’t bring you more photographs as I move on – the books themselves are now lost to me. Longer stories and novels that I remember clearly include the old but timeless Gobbolino: The Witch’s Cat by Ursula Moray Williams. I really identified with the struggles of the little kitten to find his true nature and identity. I clearly enjoyed all things Witchy (although many of the traditional fairy tales were a little too scary for me), because another book that I recall loving was The Witch’s Daughter by Nina Bawden. What young girl could resist a heroine with the name ‘Perdita’? Mythology and history were also strongly appealing – especially Mary Stewart’s series of books about about Merlin.

It’s hard to say what helped most to encourage me to read. Books that engaged both the eyes and the heart, and time spent with my mother who would read to us at bedtime. The sense that my mother also valued these books was important, and the gradual movement from illustrations with a few words to words with a few illustrations. In fact, the feeling that I was growing up and moving on and actually making ‘progress’ from one thing to another probably helped me to grow naturally into new reading challenges.

My mother would also make up stories for us. It felt magical and personal and gave me the knowledge that reading and writing was something that I myself could do, not just an unknown author scribbling away in the ubiquitous attic somewhere.

Not every child, though, has such a positive route to reading. My own son is dyslexic. He loved being read to as a child, but became resistant once he was given longer books to read himself. Once he was diagnosed the need to experiment with different formats became clearer, and for a while more visual-based materials like magazines and cartoons were a help. It was a minor miracle when we discovered Lemony Snicket and the A Series of Unfortunate Events books by Daniel Handler. They were quirky and fun and digestible, but more importantly they were printed with wide spacing onto cream coloured paper – much more readable for a dyslexic child. Briefly, my son loved reading again.

It is interesting that, much later in his life when he had reached adulthood, my son began reading again because he acquired a Kindle electronic reader. I was sceptical about how much use it would get when he asked me to buy him one to take away with him on his campervan adventures, but within weeks he had devoured several books. So: don’t make assumptions, experiment with format, and never forget that words can be shared verbally as well as on paper!
___________________________________________________________________
See the suggestions other writers have for encouraging reading in children:
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1ly
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
A.J. Maguire http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Anne Stenhouse http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

© Anne de Gruchy

Advertisements
1

Seven Day Book Challenge – No 7: Winter Hours

Book Number Seven: Winter Hours – Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems by Mary Oliver

(Published by Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999)

annedegruchy.co.uk image: Book Cover - Winter Hours

I was introduced to this book, and to Mary Oliver, by an American friend. Since then I have read a lot of Mary Oliver’s work and every piece has been just beautiful – she is so engaged with nature – so observant – and her prose and poems are simple with a real love at their heart.

I love the varied material in this book. The way we get an insight into the author and her world and how she sees things. We watch as she is unable to clean the stairs of her house because a spider is building its web there, we see turtles travel to the beach to lay their eggs, we are allowed into the secrets of how she came to write her poem ‘The Swan’.

Mary Oliver talks about poems needing to have ‘sincere energy’ and ‘a spiritual purpose’ and I think these are the qualities that I love in her work. Here is gentleness and insight alongside the raw realities of life.

Just beautiful.

0

Seven Day Book Challenge – No 3: Birthday Letters

Book Number Three: Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes

(First published in 1998 by Faber and Faber Limited)

annedegruchy.co.uk image: book cover - Birthday Letters

If I absolutely had to pick a favourite book of poetry, this would be it.

It’s not that Ted Hughes is necessarily my favourite poet (he isn’t), but more that it reads like a cross between an autobiography (which it is) and a novel. Intensely personal, and charting so much of his relationship with Sylvia Plath, the beauty of this book is how it is so fiery and emotional – how it gets under your skin and makes you feel that it is you who is reliving an event or activity through each poem. You feel like you are in each moment, the prose is so immediate, yet it is so personal that you almost feel embarrassed that the moment has been shared with you, a stranger.

This is a book that takes you on a journey through a relationship – more poignant for it being a famous one where we know the sad outcome. In every poem there are brilliant and brightly lit moments – the ups and downs, the intensity, the passion and the frustrations. It is a book with a journey in it, and you move inexorably to the end – carried on a big tide and unable to jump free if you wanted to.

 

3

Seven Day Book Challenge – No 1: The Bone People

A friend of mine took up a ‘Seven Day Book Challenge’ on Facebook recently and suggested that I might follow suit. This seemed to involve recommending a different book every day for a week. I was a bit tardy in following this up, but it got me thinking about the wonderful range of books that have spoken to me over the years and it occurred to me that it would be a lovely thing to share through my blog – so here goes! I’ve cheated a little in not sticking to the single sentence I was meant to use to introduce the books…

In no particular order:

Book Number One: The Bone People by Keri Hulme
(First published in Great Britain 1985 by Spiral in association with Hodder and Stoughton)

annedegruchy.co.uk image: book cover - The Bone People

This book is my all-time favourite novel. It won the Booker McConnell Prize in 1985 and I recall that it divided opinion at the time. It is an intense book, with intensely poetic and beautiful prose.

Set on the South Island beaches of New Zealand it has the sense of a timeless fable, immersed in nature and Maori myth, but at its heart it is the story of three people – Kerewin who sets up home in an isolated tower by the beach, a boy who befriends her, and his father, Joe. I don’t know Keri Hulme managed to write such heart-achingly personal prose – so deep and intense and embedded in each character and their troubles – but it’s absolutely why I Love Love Love this book.

1

Bedtime Story

My previous Round Robin blog post about story ideas reminded me of this poem I wrote when my son was little. He’s 25 now – my, how time flies!!

Bedtime Story

My bright boy shines –
toothbrushed, washed,
hot water-bottle warmed,
ready to be cocooned in
the pages of a book.

Charmed and chapter-ready,
I rest my arm
across his shoulders,
inhaling deep the drug
that is his perfume.

Together we journey
deep into magical words,
spun into dragons,
and forests,
and happy-ever-after endings.

He is entranced,
entangled in the
ebb and flow,
eye-bright, excited, and
“Just one more chapter, please…”

Later, creeping by his room,
I cannot resist
going to pay homage,
drinking in the angelic beauty
that is his sleep.

My bright boy shines
and stirs at my kiss;
“I love you”, I say,
willing my words into his dreams
I turn and close the door.

© Anne de Gruchy

5

Sharing my Spiritual Scrapbook

Today, at my Centering Prayer group, we tried out a different format. Instead of listening to some teaching on DVD we decided to bring a poem to share. We started with our usual 20 minute silent meditation then the four of us who were present read out poems or canticles that spoke to us in some way.

It was a moving time, and the most amazing range of poems and emotions were shared. Two that stood out for me were:

The Bright Field by R S Thomas
St Francis and the Sow by Galway Kinnell.

For myself, I shared a poem that my mother had once typed out and sent to me. It is called Under a Wilshire Apple Tree and is attributed to Anna Bunstone de Bary, date unknown. It begins with the following stanza:

Some folks as can afford,
So I’ve heard say,
Set up a sort of cross
Right in the garden way
To mind ‘em of the Lord.
But I, when I do see
Thik apple tree
An’ stoopin’ limb
All spread wi’ moss
I think of Him
And how He talks wi’ me.

Sharing this, I also shared with my friends the Spiritual Scrapbook that I have been keeping for 20 years. This is a very special hard-backed A5 book that my sister gave me when I had an adult baptism in 1997 (I had not discovered the Quakers then and was part of a vibrant Baptist church). My sister wrote an inscription at the front: ‘For your thoughts and special prayers’, and the book is very dear to me. I share some photographs of a few of the pages in this post.

annedegruchy.co.uk image: Spiritual Scrapbook Page

Over the years I have written or stuck into the book sayings, prayers, postcards and poems that have had special meaning to me. There are parts of Celtic liturgies that we used when I studied Contextual Theology, postcards of crosses at monasteries and in mud huts, spoken ministry from Quaker meetings, and many cards with prayers and poems sent to me by my mother when she was still alive.

My mother was such a special support to me, and her faith saw me through some very dark times in my life. I treasure every single thing she sent when I was down and she wanted to help me through. My biggest sadness is that in the last few years of her own life she experienced a crisis of faith. But my mother was a gardener, and God was very close to her, and I’m sure that God spoke to her through that apple tree with stooping limb even when the light of faith was dim.

    

MAD MOMENT

New man, new distance relationship! Watch this space!

MARVEL MOMENT

As above!!!

© Anne de Gruchy

1

Haikus for my Dad

Breakfast routine lost
because there’s no jam. Wondrous
result – full fry-up!

Dad, dog, Bramcote Hills,
mud and early daffodils,
unpredicted sun.

Birthday theatre trip,
puzzled by play. Dementia?
East Midlands’ accents!!

Outside his window
birds in the aviary.
Daily choral joy.

Memory fogs and
can’t play CD. Inside head
The Sound of Music.