Morris Gleitzman is the author of Once, a book studied at school and widely enjoyed by students. Reprinted below is the full text of an article published recently in the Herald-Sun. I ask parents to read this article and discuss the importance of reading with their child.
HELPING A CHILD TO READ IS THE BEST GIFT OF ALL
During more than thirty years of writing for young people, I’ve been to a couple of thousand schools.
My main focus on these visits, apart from spending important time in the staffroom working out which is the visitor’s mug, has been listening to young readers talk about their reading. Learning what it is that really keeps them turning the page.
Some of it is what you’d expect. Fun, excitement, the chance in each new book to make new friends and have new experiences, sometimes in fascinatingly different times and places, sometimes in places you know well but are seeing through different eyes, all the while discovering the joy of words and what you can do with them and what they can do to you.
Reading stories creates literacy like nothing else on the planet. But there’s more. And when I first discovered this surprise extra as a young author, I was so stunned that the visitor’s mug slipped from my incredulous fingers. (Luckily teachers are great at diving catches.)
Stories don’t just help kids develop language literacy. They help them develop life literacy too.
Here’s how it works.
Young readers love stories in which a young character is facing a problem bigger and more threatening than any they’ve faced before. To solve or survive the problem, the character must develop skills and qualities beyond their previous experience or homework. Such as:
* Thinking bravely and honestly about what’s causing the problem;
* Developing their research skills to better understand what they’re up against;
* Big problems require teamwork, so the character needs to form friendships and alliances. Understanding enemies is a help too. All of which requires development of people skills, in particular empathy;
* Creative thinking is a must because a character with a problem needs problem-solving strategies;
* And resilience is inevitable because big problems never get solved on page 27, not when an author is contracted to write 250 pages. Which gives the young character plenty of opportunities to pick themselves up and try again.
You can probably see where this is going. As young characters steam ahead on their problem-solving journeys, young readers are at their side, imaginations aglow, offering advice and care and creative solutions. And themselves absorbing every one of these new skills and abilities.
In my current role as Australian Children’s Laureate, almost every day I meet young people whose lives are powered by books. Reading for pleasure keeps their minds expanding, their hearts beating with humanity, and helps them explore who they are and who they could become. And when one of your favourite activities is equipping you with resilience, creative thinking, empathy, bravery, interpersonal skills and problem-solving abilities, there’s no limit to who you can be.
In a perfect world, every child would have this experience every day. Ideally in a school with books for all, and teachers with time to share them, and principals who know that everything they wish for their students will happen spectacularly better if those students spend at least a part of each day being guided through the realms of reading, and being initiated into its limitless possibilities, by an experienced, highly educated, infinitely wise professional guardian of all that is precious in our human journey. A national living treasure known in the staff room as a teacher librarian.
Not all schools have these things. Though in my experience, the more that parents demand them, the more they appear.
Parents and carers have another role to play in the equipping of young people to be the literate heroes of their own lives. This one at home.