Since 2001 more than two million pupils left primary school without the ability to read well. Reading well, and with enjoyment, is a skill that unlocks opportunities at school and in life. If children do not read well, and enjoy reading, by the age of 11 they are likely to suffer social, economic and cultural exclusion as adults.
Children were once taught to become readers on the laps of their parents but now it is believed that currently six million British children under the age of 14 years old do not have a role model to inspire them to read books.
Adults who struggled as readers in childhood are less likely to inspire their own children to pick up books. It is often too easy for busy parents to hand over a tablet, an i-Pad or a mobile phone in order to amuse their kids. Electronic gadgets and game consoles are the babysitters for the 21st century, and failure to address this quickly will result in not only falling sales for publishers but future generations of mindless, illiterate adults. Schools, parents, governments, libraries, the publishing industry and even authors have a duty of care to inspire children with a love for reading.
As a full-time children's author, I am proud to have presented at nearly 1,000 schools, libraries and book festivals throughout Britain, Ireland and internationally. It is my responsibility to engage, inspire and excite children with the same enthusiasm that I have for books, obviously starting with my own titles, but hey, reading is still reading, isn't it?
I have found that in many schools the reluctant readers are the ones groaning as they enter the assembly hall, complaining that 'it's just a boring author' but the pupils bouncing out of the hall, desperate to buy my books afterwards. Of course, they will have 'forgotten' their money because they thought it was 'just another author'.
A literacy coordinator from Bolton wrote to thank me recently. She summed up the success of the day by quoting a conversation with her most reluctant boy reader, as he read one of my books he bought the previous week:
'Zak! Playtime, out you go.'
'Please Mrs. Horrocks, can I finish my chapter first?'
RESULT! I screamed, and this is what I aim to achieve in every school I attend. Events at book festivals and libraries and easier, as the audience are generally little readers anyway, although I was delighted to be described by a senior librarian "as the most exciting, enthusiastic and inspirational author ever!"
My presentations have to be entertaining and dynamic, in order to capture every child's imagination for up to an hour. I use video, music and pictures from my books, some colour, some black and white. I talk about alliterations and use visualisation to help children picture the pages in their heads as I read. Having the skill to turn words in a book into movies in their minds is essential, I believe, in becoming an avid reader. Keeping eye contact with the whole audience is also vital to ensure total engagement with my audience, so I have memorised every page that I read, holding the book in my hand, whilst acting out the story. Using volunteers to join in with the story can be great fun too; children love laughing at (with) their teachers.
However, recently I have been called into several schools that have had a bad experience with an author. Instead of energising and exciting kids with the gift of reading, some authors have been so dull that they've had the opposite effect, turning children off books. Minimal eye-contact, monotonous readings and boring deliveries are guaranteed to endorse the erroneous opinion, in a reluctant readers mind, that books are boring. Those brilliant writers who are not good presenters should let their books speak for themselves. Just stay at home!
Reading for pleasure promotes children's cognitive and social skills. It develops language, vocabulary, communication and confidence. Reading fiction can also promote empathy and relationship skills, as children learn to 'feel' for the characters.
Reading a good book is also satisfying, it will enrich your life and leave you slightly exhausted at the end, and as I often see on school walls "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go". - Dr. Seuss