Readers for Life: Books and Bribery by Jackie French

Today’s post is guest post from Jackie French  Jackie was the Australian Children’s Laureate for 2014/15 and the 2015 Senior Australian of the Year.  She is also an historian, ecologist, dyslexic, and a passionate worker for literacy, the right of all children to be able to read, and the power of books.  Jackie is a passionate supporter of libraries and we thank her for contributing today’s post. 

Fred and Spencer

Fred and Spencer

You only need three things to turn a child into a reader: a child, a book…and the person who can either choose the prefect book for them, the one that will turn them into a reader, or who has the skill to read them either the whole book, or part of it, to expand their love of books and say ‘More!’

Humans are the species who love stories. It’s how we tell our friends what happened last weekend. Our history is told in stories. A business plan working out how to profitable mine the asteroids is a story- until it’s done, and then it becomes another story “We did this.

We don’t need to reach kids to love stories. We need to teach tem how to find them. And, mostly, parents don’t do this well. Most times I am with a large group of kids I ask all adults to shut their eyes, then tell the kids ‘quickly, with no one watching. Who thinks book are boring?

There have only been six places out of several thousand where less than 80% put up their hands.

Don’t be depressed. When I ask those kids if they thought TV was boring last night, almost every one puts up their hands at that, too.

‘Why did you watch it?’

‘Because there was nothing better to do.’

Adults are kids enablers. They can’t read fascinating books if we don’t provide them- and show them they can be enthralling.

We are losing our readers at six to eight, the time when kids have just learned to read. But those same kids, when asked, innocently ‘Who do you think should be on the Iron Thrones’ will mostly have an opinion. No, I do NOT think Game of Thrones is appropriate for kids. I’m not even sure it’s appropriate for me. But we can’t expect kids who are watching complex shows to be content with ‘Run Spot Run’

We are also losing our readers in early teenage hood when they outgrow their kids’ books but don’t know what to reach for instead.

The solutions?

  • Librarians in each school, that tribe of magicians who know how to match books and kids
  • Family library programmes, to help parents know how to encourage their kids to read, not just when they are four, but fourteen
  • Literacy programmes in libraries, as reading problems can be inherited, both physically and culturally.
  • Free range readers: take kids to a library, show them where the non-fiction section and magazines are, leave them as long as they like, and let them take out as many as they can carry
  • Show kids how to taste a book: read a bit, and if it’s boring, put it down and get another. Too many kids are told you HAVE to finish a book. Why? It’s only paper. It won’t be offended if you drop it.
  • Read aloud to kids, to tempt them to complex books. Because every kid I have asked said they’d LOVE to clean their room I someone read their favourite book while they did it.
  • Want someone to clean the bathroom? Give the kids scrubbing brushes and read to them.
  • Read till there’s a cliff hanger then put the book down, saying ‘We’ll read more tomorrow.’ You child will pick it up and discover that if they can read a paragraph, they can read a page. If they can read one page, they can read 140…and large books will no longer intimidate- especially if they are told they don’t have to read it all. I don’t finish every book either, or even two thirds of them. Sometimes, like a delicious pizza, just a few slices is enough. And unlike pizza, you can come back t a book days or even years later, we you feel like it again.
  • Read to the dog. Every library needs a dog who loves being read to. A live one is best, but a giant stuffed toy works too. Dogs don’t criticize you when you make a mistake.
  • Bribery. A young friend offered to give cocoa with marshmallows every night to a boarding house of teenage boys who all said they hated reading if they read for five minutes. By the end of term one every single boy was an avid reader. Some said books had changed their lives in other ways, to numerous- and personal- to talk of here

I offer kids a bet: if we can’t find a book they love, I’ll send them $5 or a packet of chocolate frogs. Over 100,000 kids have copied down my email address. Not one has asked for the money- or the frogs. But thousands have emailed me to tell me of the books their librarian has found them.

Child+the right book+ someone to introduce them, or bribery, works every time.

To learn more about Jackie and her reading advocacy activities, check out the video below or visit her website:

Posted in Discussion topics, Guest post, Round 2016A and tagged , , , , .

One Comment

  1. My nine year old just read you Animal Stars title “the Horse who bit a Bushranger” and lived it. I’m the Teacher Zlibrarian at her school and will source the other titles 🙂 Thanks for all of your wisdoms and terrific books, Jackie!

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