LEFT TO THEIR OWN DEVICES: READING FOR PLEASURE
05 May 2021
More children were reading during lockdown. Not because someone was telling them to or because they had to for school, but because they had time to pick up a novel or listen to an audiobook. And they say that they enjoyed the experience. A tiny thread of a silver lining glitters.
Rights for Readers
This welcome news from the National Literacy Trust is vindication for the likes of former teacher Daniel Pennac who devised his The Rights of the Reader back in 2006. He argues that studying literature at school crushes children’s enjoyment of reading. Now it seems that, left to their own devices and tired of their own devices, children are seeking solace between the pages of a good book – if, that is, they have access to their own books. Step forward footballer Marcus Rashford, who manages to find time between training sessions to get books to disadvantaged families along with other life essentials. Shout out too for the work of independent bookshops such as Round Table Books in Brixton and many more around the country, I’m sure.
The Benefits of Reading
When we are small, we love to be told stories; then we want to learn how to read them for ourselves and tell stories of our own. Author and academic Katherine Rundell has eloquently outlined the benefits of reading children’s books way on us all, way past adolescence. We know about the impact on mental health, language skills, social skills; how reading stimulates our imagination and our ability to focus. Books, like kale, are good for you, but I only like kale when it is turned into crisps. Unless you enjoy reading, you won’t do it; and you are unlikely to enjoy reading if you haven’t got the skills and access to a wide range of books, including ones where you can read about people like you. Reading skills need nurturing and developing and resources must be available to everyone throughout their lives, in school libraries and public libraries as well as in homes.
So, it’s obvious, isn’t it? What we need to do to get children reading is keep them locked away for months on end, deprive them of the company of their friends, acquaint them with the numbing boredom of having nothing to do and no one to see that characterised the Sunday nights of my youth and maybe yours, too. That’ll drive them to books.
Clearly not. So how can we hang on to this renewed interest in reading once the brakes are off and the sun is shining? Be confident in the medium. Trust the youth. Develop the skills. Provide the books.
Downside School Library
Here at Downside School we’ve been busy during lockdown fine tuning the library catalogue so that pupils can find the next book to read. A spring clean of data sounds as dull as ditch-water, but means that pupils can read a short summary of most books online before reserving a title from their phones or computers. Meanwhile, pupils carrying out research can now find books at the right reading level thanks to a re-cataloguing of our extensive collection of non-fiction.
When that longed-for day comes in June when restrictions are lifted and the School library is once again open to all for browsing, studying or just settling into an armchair with the latest edition of Scoop or FourFourTwo, we will be having a Library Fiesta! The band is booked, the catering organised, the salsa teacher limbering up and the shelves of glorious books dusted and polished.
Back to those Rights for Readers. We considered them during library sessions a while back and pupils at Downside School wanted to add an eleventh right: the right not to be judged for what you read. So don’t judge. And don’t be embarrassed.
Click here to find out more about the School Library.
Daniel Pennac, The Rights of the Reader, translated by Sarah Ardizzone, Walker Books, 2006
Katherine Rundell, Why You Should Read Children’s Books Even Though You Are So Old and Wise, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019
National Literacy Trust report ‘Children and young people’s reading before and during the Covid-19 lockdown’ 13th July 2020