Yet, even though we know this, we as adults still sometimes find it difficult to share our reading preferences with colleagues for fear of prejudice, sneers and put-downs. From readers who confess that they can’t be friends with anyone who doesn’t love Captain Corelli’s Mandolin to the disdain expressed in certain quarters for Mills & Boon romances or SAS-type action books. Getting beyond this, and learning to celebrate individual reading choices, is vital if we are to encourage the children we work with to explore reading and books in an open way. If, as adult readers, we feel guilty occasionally about our reading choices, just imagine how kids will react to this pressure. How does a child feel if all the influential people in their life – friends and peers, parents, extended family, teachers – pull a face at a book they love?
Remembering this, when talking to children about their reading preferences is essential in encouraging young readers. Children, like adults, can easily be swayed by trends or the opinions of friends. It’s important to find a way through this and to encourage pupils’ individual reading tastes.
Looking back at our own reading habits as a child can help us to make an important link with the reading habits and choices of the children we work with. By remembering how we felt as young readers, it enables us to connect with our children and to understand what they are looking for with each new read.
One idea is to revisit some of the books we read when we were younger. No doubt it’ll inspire a range of emotions from the positive – enjoyment, fond memories, and delight in favourites - to the not so good – regrets, embarrassment, reminders of tough times. Yet, all these experiences will have helped shape the readers we are today. Taking the time to reflect and question how a specific book made us feel, remembering a particular book that had a big impact on us, where our favourite place to read was, who might have read to us and how that made us feel can help us to connect with our pupils. Remembering a book that all our friends were reading or a book that an adult wanted us to read which we didn’t enjoy will help us to understand children’s reading needs today.
We also need to remember that children, just like adults, need and want to read different books at different times. Just as we have different clothes for different occasions, it’s the same with books. Not everybody wants a constant diet of challenging, smart books (just as we don’t always want to be dressed to the nines) but equally we sometimes choose to wind down with a book which delivers a familiar plotline and characters who are old friends (just as we sometimes want comfy clothes to relax in).
There is a clear message here which we should all champion: books play different roles in people’s lives – and a good read is all about the right book reaching the right person at the right time. Reading really comes alive when the needs and choices of every reader (however young or old) are truly celebrated and valued. Recognising this and remembering this whilst will help us encourage our pupils to lay down foundations for reading for life.
How do you go about guiding your pupils’ reading habits? Let us know in the comments.