As adult readers we are safe in the knowledge that reading is good for us. And if we needed proof, a National Literacy Trust study of children reading in lockdown showed that three in five children and young people said that reading makes them feel better.
As the founder of a literary magazine for children my work is about fostering the joy children can find in reading and trying to make sure they stay hooked. I work closely with the leading authors and illustrators of the children’s book world.
I was always read to as a child and believe that this is the number one thing a parent or teacher can do to bring reading for pleasure into the lives of children. This along with our education leaders and governments making sure that books are accessible to all children (I wholeheartedly support Michael Rosen’s suggestion that children should be issued with library tickets at birth).
Reading aloud to each other is not only about that precious time spent one on one, or in the case of a classroom one teacher with a group, but a chance to bring a story to life and show children how much you, the adult, gets out of it too.
“I wholeheartedly support Michael Rosen’s suggestion that children should be issued with library tickets at birth.”
I heard an interview once with a mother of three teenage girls, the youngest was fifteen, and she said she still read aloud to them, especially when there were moments of unease or stress. It is the best way to talk to each other when you might not be able to say what you feel.
It is not only reading books together, taking it in turns to read passages and chapters, but also looking at magazines, listening to podcasts and reading comics together that can bring in those really wonderful moments, spark conversations and foster long term engagement with a subject.
A report from Egmont tells us that one third of eight to ten-year-old girls and over half of boys say they prefer magazines to books. One boy said, “Magazines make good reading because it’s kind of like reading but just with more pictures.”
This brings me to the wonderful subject of comics. Because of the graphic format which lacks daunting passages of text and instead features illustrations to delight and explain the story, they are an incredibly helpful and magical tool when encouraging a reluctant reader.
“Comics are an incredibly helpful and magical tool when encouraging a reluctant reader.”
Chris Murray, head of English at the University of Dundee says “Comics don’t harm literacy; they promote it. They involve the reader in a complex negotiation of words and images, making logical sense of the narrative and weaving the action together based on the elementary cues in the illustrations.”
I think comics should be introduced not only as reading materials in schools, but also in creative writing lessons and exercises as a way to help readers think about how stories are constructed. All you need is nine squares and a character for children to take their imagination to the page.
There are some excellent comics and graphic novels out there for all ages including The Beano, The Phoenix magazine, Illustrated Classics by Marcia Williams, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Tiny Tyrant, Mother to Son Harlem Night Song, and The Inkberg Enigma by Jonathan King.
“Comics should be introduced not only as reading materials in schools, but also in creative writing lessons and exercises.”
Recently I was told about a school who had taken the radical decision to demand that all students carry something to read in their bags, a book, a magazine or a comic. The teachers could ask to see it at any time and if the student failed to produce anything and be able to talk about it, they would get a fine!
Some may argue that this is taking the joy out of reading but I do think if we can make books and magazines a part of their lives by harnessing as many tools as possible then we have a generation that looks at the world with intelligence and empathy and has a place they can go to where they feel good.
Clementine Macmillan-Scott is the editor in chief of Scoop magazine.