I’ve just finished reading a post, by Anne Cassidy, about teachers and reading on the Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Argument raged in the comments: while some teachers encourage a love of reading, do others discourage it by picking books to pieces?
I don’t personally think junior school children should be analysing texts.
is a means to an end, not an end in itself, and the point, please God, is to have fun. More than fun. Stories are like music, a way of transcendence, of expanding the frontiers of one’s life, of being swept up in something greater than oneself. We need stories to be human. Animals experience life, but they don’t attempt to make sense of it. Human beings need to impose some kind of narrative order on the world. It’s necessary for our souls. It's like teaching a child how a car engine works, before it understands what a car is for - ie: taking you someplace. Reading
So telling stories to children is one of the most important things you can do for them: and as most people nowadays don’t sit around the fire in the evenings yarning, teaching children to read helps them to help themselves to ALL THE STORIES THEY WILL EVER NEED. Unbelievable riches, available quite cheaply, or free from the local library.
My original teacher was my mother. I don’t remember learning to read, but I do remember how she read aloud to me and my brother for years and years, long after we’d learned to read for ourselves. I remember the pleasure of the story and the pleasure of the family closeness this brief fifteen or twenty minutes created every evening.
I went to several infant and junior schools without being very happy at any of them, and then, for one wonderful year when I was ten, I was sent to a very tiny private school – only 50 or so children, almost a dame school – run by one marvellous woman we all called ‘Mrs Butler’. (Did the Ahlbergs know her, I wonder?) Mrs Butler ended up with most of the local children who had any kind of problems, social, physical, psychological – and she did wonders.
Her school was first and foremost a safe and happy place. Second, it was tremendously creative. Mrs Butler was a talented artist and one of the best readers-aloud I’ve ever heard. The timetable – apart from arithmetic first thing – was each day a glorious surprise. We might do painting or clay; we might listen to music, or sing, we might write stories or go for a nature walk. And every afternoon Mrs Butler would read aloud to us a whole chapter from a book. In the course of that one year she read us at least six entire books: I still remember them. She read us the whole of 'Tom Sawyer', 'Brendon Chase', 'The Little Grey Men', 'The Wind in the Willows', 'The
' and 'A Christmas Carol'. Forest of Boland Light Railway
We listened like mice. And here’s the best thing. We didn’t have to analyse the stories, or explain how the authors used similes or description, or write essays about them. They were for our pleasure. We loved them. I still do.
When I get letters or emails from children who really love my books, they say impetuous, unpunctuated things like: “Hi I think your books are fantastic they are the best books I ever read when are you going to write another one?’ But when I get letters that begin, “Dear Mrs Langrish, I really enjoyed reading your book Troll Fell because I like your descriptions,” I know with a sinking heart that I am reading a piece of homework, and though the child may have enjoyed my book, I will never know for sure.
Anyway, with the help of an old schoolfriend, I recently discovered my long-lost teacher’s address. I’ve wanted to write to her for ages, to tell her how much that year I spent in her school meant to me, and how much it did for me. So I’ve sent her a card and a copy of my most recent book. Perhaps she’ll enjoy reading my story as much I once enjoyed listening to her.