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My life as a bookworm: what children can teach us about how to read

15 February 2018

From The Guardian:

I spent most of my early years – aged one to three, say – being trodden on. “It was your own fault,” my mother explains. “You were too quiet. You used to stand by my feet, not making a sound, so I’d forget you were there. What toddler does that?”

I think the explanation lies in the fact that I wasn’t really a baby. I was a bookworm. For the true bookworm, life doesn’t really begin until you get hold of your first book. Until then – well, you’re just waiting, really. You don’t even know for what, at that stage – if you did, you would be making more noise about it and be less covered in court-shoe-shaped bruises. But it’s books.

. . . .

My dad is a reader. There wasn’t much money in his family so there weren’t many books in the house, apart from a few precious bound collections of Boy’s Own comics. So it was to the Harris library in Preston that Dad took himself every week, working his way gradually through its offerings. My mother is not a reader. She is a doer. For most of my life, she was a gynaecologist, specialising in gruesome anecdotes and family planning (my mother is the only Catholic in history to have thrown off her upbringing utterly and never looked back).

When I was tiny I didn’t see Dad much because stage managing at the National Theatre takes you way past toddler bedtime. But my first real memory is of him tucking me in beside him on the long, brown floral sofa that sat on an orange carpet and opening a book almost as colourful as our sitting room. It was The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle’s paint’n’tissue-paper collaged account of metamorphosis, fuelled by choice morsels of American culinary classics, into a butterfly.

Later came weekly trips to the local library. But those library books have not stuck in my mind. The ones Dad bought me, the ones I was able to keep and read and reread (and reread and reread and reread …) were the ones I loved. Adults tend to forget what a vital part of the process rereading is for children. As adults, rereading seems like backtracking at best, self-indulgence at worst. Free time is such a scarce resource that we feel we should use it on new things.

But for children, rereading is absolutely necessary. The act of reading is itself still new. A lot of energy is still going into (not so) simple decoding of words and the assimilation of meaning. Only then do you get to enjoy the plot – to begin to get lost in the story. The beauty of a book is that it remains the same for as long as you need it. You can’t wear out a book’s patience.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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4 Comments to “My life as a bookworm: what children can teach us about how to read”

  1. You’ve given me a new word (doesn’t happen every day): “court-shoe”, the Brit for “pump”.


  2. My patient husband read Goodnight Moon twelve times in a row to our eldest (around 2 at the time), with full expression, no deviations allowed, because at the end was the command ‘Again!’

    Needless to say, the child was reading before three.

  3. I love rereading my favourite books. I always find something I missed first time around.

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