One child’s journey towards reading for pleasure: finding that spark

In this post I tell the story of how my daughter became a reader. She is a bright child who has loved picture books since she was 10 months old, but her transition into reading chapter books was not straightforward.  I believe some of the factors which made it a bumpy ride may be relevant to other children of all abilities. We hope sharing our story will help other parents and educators support their children.

About a month before her 7th birthday my daughter was considered to have reached a good competence in her reading. This meant that she could now ‘choose’ what she read, first from books that bridge the gap between school readers and chapters books and later chapter books. It may be relevant to note that this is done earlier in my daughters school than in other schools, with the idea if you have choice about what you read you will be more enthusiastic. At first this seemed to work, and she enjoyed the books she brought home. However, quickly she said she could not find a book she liked. At that time the schools selection of early reader’s and first chapter books was poor. With the knowledge and experience of fiction for 6 to 12 year olds that I have acquired in the past 13 months I now realise just how ‘limited’ the choice of books was. As a growing school the funding for new books did not come through until 6 months after she had made this transition.  Choice matters and lack of choice did make that journey more difficult. However, we did by an unexpected routes get there in the end. This experience inspired me and my daughter to find out more about children’s fiction. We have learnt that engagement (and disengagement) with reading is a fluid process, and that there are more great books out there than I could have possibly imagined!

So you can choose what you want to read? So finding the something you want to read will be easy?  We found it wasn’t quite that simple! What if the kind of story you liked to be read isn’t the kind of story you want to read yourself? What happens if the books your friends are reading don’t interest you? What if some of your friends are at a different stage of reading so not reading chapter books yet? What if your comprehension of language and story structure is great than your reading ability at that time? All of these things put together certainly add to the task of finding the right story.

A good librarian can help, but, even with the help of our local library we still felt like we were guessing. My daughter often learns by ‘doing’, so maybe the only way to find out what books she liked was trial and error. Many of the books were quickly rejected. It was quite a bewildering time as a parent. My daughter went in a few months from being enthusiastic about reading to beginning to loose interest altogether. I remember talking to a friend who had a daughter a year older . She said “there was a period where her reading seemed to stand still, but she is enjoying reading now”. So maybe this is a phase that lot’s of children go through? It was a reassuring to know. But, something was telling me that wasn’t quite the whole story.

Then two things happened,  One was we started having conversations about the books she has rejected, the ones’s she would not read and the ones she got half way through. The quotes below are written with hindsight and may not have been as clear at time, but the suggestion was there.

“That series of animal stories that x is reading has no plot”
“That humorous story that y likes jumps around a lot and doesn’t make sense”
“ This looks like an interesting book, but I don’t understand what it is saying”

The second thing which happened was my daughter was loving a new CBBC drama, called Hetty Feather based on the book by Jacqueline Wilson. Through which she became fascinated by the character Hetty Feather and the Victorian era. She liked it so much that she re-watched it many times. She got all 4 of the Hetty Feather stories from her grandad on her 7th birthday, along with an Victorian outfit. The look of joy on her face was priceless.

We then shared reading Hetty Feather. My daughter would read a little, then myself or my husband would read some more of the story. This suggestion was made by another parent and it worked really well. The fact that she could already identify with the main character from watching the TV drama helped in wanting to read the story. Familiarity with the story helped her to access a book that was a little above her reading level. Finding that first book a child enjoys reading is so important. We now know she could read a book with a complex plot and that she could find a book she wanted to read, neither of which should be underestimated. It was however, only the start of our journey into establishing the foundations for reading for pleasure. I’ve heard some parents say “once they found that one book they were of reading.” In our experience it wasn’t quite that simple!

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