Tuesday 3 March 2015

Reading Aloud by Fleur Hitchcock

So your child can read unaided.

Congratulations, that’s  pretty amazing. They’ve learned to de-code all those random marks on the page and they can grapple at their own speed with the world inside a book.

You might think your work is over – but I’ve got news for you.

You’ve done half the job.

My son was an early decoder. He chomped through picture books and rampaged through early readers.  He sucked every drop of life from Roald Dahl and quickly leapt to The Hobbit and Mortal Engines. However he had a sister, three years younger – who didn’t read, who didn’t want to read, but who loved stories. So at first my husband would read to one, and I the other.  We took it in turns. But the children gatecrashed each other’s stories, and it all became very long and exhausting. So then we began to find books that they could both enjoy.   

Those books were of course, Middle Grade. Sometimes the story would be a little tough for my daughter, or perhaps it might be a little young for my son. But this way we read 101 Dalmations, Peter Pan in Scarlet, The Bed and Breakfast Kid, The Mouse and His Child, Inkheart, Skellig, some of the Harry Potters (we balked at The Order of the Phoenix and borrowed the tapes) Larklight, Black Hearts in Battersea, Pippi Longstocking and many many more. We raced through them, book after book  – a minimum of three chapters required nightly. They corrected us about accents, (it turns out that Moominmama wasn’t Irish), and authors, and pictures, and choices.  They asked questions and we all wept and laughed together. They brought up issues, they discussed friends at school with similar problems. The reading itself took half the time, the discussions, the other half.  

They loved it, we loved it.  And frankly, we’d have kept it up if life hadn’t interrupted – but I think one was 10 and the other 13 when we finally stopped.

Now, for all this, my daughter has still never read a book (she’s nearly 14). So it didn’t make her want to read. But she watches movies with us every night, and hates watching them alone. She sees a movie as a moving story – so the theory that reading to your children makes them readers doesn’t work in every case but it does in most. There’s stacks of research out there to show that it makes readers of children – most of them. 

But it doesn’t matter that she didn’t go on to embrace books. The other positive effects on our family have been enormous. Ignoring the fact that I went on to become a middle grade writer. My husband, a middle grade reader, we got to share so much.

We spent so much more time engaged with each other.

And most importantly, we accessed their world at a time of change and it left a lasting imprint on us as adults. It means that now, as they careen through teenage, we have a means of simple communication. A place of safety that we all understand. Stories. 



  1. This is so true Fleur. I have the same issue with my son. He loves stories, but largely can't be bothered to read them himself. Of course the hope is that by continuing to read to him (at nearly ten) he'll eventually learn to love reading by himself. But perhaps it doesn't matter? He creates his own imaginative world's when playing games and his obsession with the Simpsons often leaks out into the real world. At that age stories really are everywhere.

  2. Yay! Jake - I realise now, with hindsight that it doesn't matter if it helps them read or not. What's most important is that they learn to access and create stories.

  3. Yes yes yes! The shared experience of reading stories together, or watching them, (the Simpsons was often amazingly pertinent!) creates a vocabulary of family references that help in the most complicated of real life events. My Ma went on reading to me and my children all her life, creating wonderful memories and a powerful support network of imaginary friends who will be there for us forever! Lizza Aiken https://joanaiken.wordpress.com

  4. Great post, Fleur, very wise about non-readers. We all need stories, in whatever form. Sharing stories and being able to talk about them is so important. (Think of book groups - OK, maybe that's more about the wine!) Reading poems aloud and singing songs is also good for bonding. There are plenty of great - and funny - poems for children. And I'd support everything Lizza says in her comment above.

  5. An absolutely excellent post! I think the most important thing that you mention is the quality time spent together! I don't have children myself yet but my husband and I spend time talking about the books that we have read. Taking the time to turn the TV off and do this leads to some of our most fruitful discussions and has given me some very happy memories.
    As a teacher I can't help focusing on the fantastic message your post gives about reading for meaning too. Some of the parents I have worked with consider reading to be the mechanics and the decoding. I think you can't underestimate the power of talking about the characters, the underlying themes and, most importantly, how the book makes you feel.