Tag Archives: reading environment

We need another Harry Potter.

It is nearly sixteen years since the publication of the first Harry Potter novel and few would argue the immense impact of J.K. Rowling’s series in every corner of the globe. Indeed, there are some young Muggles who cannot remember a world without the famous boy wizard. Whilst the success and cultural influence of the Harry Potter series is undeniable, of late there has been a noticeable shift in the place young Harry and his friends occupy in the hearts of the young.

Harry Potter

The first hint I had of a waning preoccupation with Harry surfaced upon the release of the final movie back in 2011. During a wide-reading lesson, my class of Year 7 boys were discussing the upcoming film release with much anticipation. During the ensuing discussion, I discovered the majority of boys had not read the final book in the series and furthermore, had no intention of ever doing so. They all reported quite cheerfully that they had been waiting for the film’s release to “see how it ended”. Thank you, Hollywood.

Apparently this reluctance to read the actual book is not restricted to boys. A recent change of school now sees me enjoying wide-reading lessons with girls and, much to my dismay, I have discovered a similar avoidance of Harry. The prevailing reason given for not bothering to read the books is “we’ve seen the movies; we don’t need to read the books”. Again, thank you, Hollywood.

Regular readers will know that I am a fan of the movie tie-in, as it frequently sparks eager interest in a book. A fortunate side-effect of the hoopla surrounding certain blockbuster films is often the rush of fans to the bookstore, impatient to read the book and/or series. The Hunger Games is a recent example of this movie-inspired hype.

Sadly, the rush to read Harry Potter appears to be at an end. The story has reached saturation point and as such has created a disturbing predicament for both educators and parents: like Neville Longbottom’s cauldron in potions class, Harry Potter has gone off the boil. The exhilarating whizz-banging blast of spells has faded away to a sad fizzle.

At the height of its popularity, the Harry Potter series was nothing short of a phenomenon. Rowling’s imagination, clever characterisation, warm wit and resounding themes captured the hearts of readers and non-readers around the world. Children ran around playgrounds shouting Expelliarmus! and Wingardium Leviosa! College students created their own Quidditch league, Hermione made going to the library cool, and the word Muggle entered our lexicon forever.

Indeed, there was a time back in the early part of the 21st century where it was hard to find anyone who hadn’t read some or all of the Harry Potter series, or at least expressed the desire to read it. In short, Harry got both kids and adults reading. And as my Reading Rules explain, often all it takes to trigger a lifelong reading habit is enjoyment of and engagement in one book – and Harry Potter was certainly the trigger for a generation of readers.

The majority of these Harry Potter readers are now in their twenties, members of the so-called Generation Y. They grew up reading the print editions of Harry Potter, eagerly anticipating the release of each subsequent book. Later, they were the first fans at the midnight screenings of the films, resplendent in their Gryffindor scarves and Death Eater masks.

Despite receiving bad press for various traits, Gen Y is an incredibly smart and articulate group. I am constantly blown away by the intelligence and critical thinking abilities of this generation – the Harry Potter generation. Of course Harry Potter didn’t create these smart kids – but maybe their habit of sustained, deep reading had a profound influence on the way they turned out.

The world of reading has undergone significant changes and challenges since these Gen Y readers were children. Today’s children often read from a screen and not from the printed page. Whilst I maintain that any reading is good reading studies are beginning to discern a difference between reading from a screen and the printed page, as this Scientific American article reports. Indeed the National Literacy Trust in the UK believes that children’s reading progress is hindered by Kindles and e-books.

Further studies into the long-term effects of reading from non-print sources are clearly needed. But it is irrefutable that a child reading an e-book from a connected tablet such as an I-pad or Kindle Wifi has to compete with many distractions whilst reading – checking social media sites, online chatting and gaming. The ability to become totally immersed and absorbed in a good book is lessened by constant distraction – and this must detract from the enjoyment of the reading experience. Does this lack of immersion and subsequent lesser enjoyment of the reading experience explain the decline in reading among our children? What will be the societal result? Will reading decline to such an extent that we become a post-literate society?

Since the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 2007, the final book in the series, there has been a void in the reading world. Yes we’ve had the Twilight craze, but this was far more popular with girls than boys. John Green is arguably the most successful author for teens at the moment, in large part due to his clever marketing via social media (a big hello to any nerdfighters out there). Green is undoubtedly an exceptional writer. His novel The Fault in our Stars is being made into a movie, and there is a currently great deal of online hype about this. But few adults will have heard of either the author or the book. Perhaps the nearest rival we’ve had to the Harry Potter phenomenon in recent times is The Hunger Games. But with sales of 26 million against the 400 million of Harry Potter, the comparison is almost embarrassing.

It’s clear that nothing comes close to Harry. And that is a problem. Because anecdotally most educators will tell you that this generation is not reading as much as previous generations. And when they do bother to read, many of them are reading e-books. More studies need to be done on the effect of reading from screens and personal devices, but all teachers will tell you that nothing beats sustained reading and it is difficult to become immersed in an I-pad when Facebook, Twitter and Angry Birds are beckoning.

We need another Harry Potter! We need a new series which will tap into the imagination of children (and adults) around the world. And we need a few years between the publication of the book and the release of the inevitable movie so that kids have to make an effort and read the damned book first! Will the next J.K Rowling please step forward?

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The role of the family in the reading habits of children.

Earlier this week, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released an interesting report which examined the important relationship between the family and the reading habits of children.

Photo by Alec Couros

This article used data from Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) which is a major study following the development of 10,000 children and families from all over Australia. The study began in 2004, looking at families with 0 -1 year old children and 4- 5 year old children. These same families and children were the studied six years later in 2010.

Data from the LSAC indicates that there are three major influences in the development of a child’s reading habits: having books in the home, visiting the library and reading aloud.

The children in the study had their engagement in reading measured using a time-diary which recorded the sequence of all activities the child engaged in during the day prior to being interviewed for the study. Various factors affecting the reading habits of children were mentioned in the report, such as the education levels of parents, family type and the language spoken at home. You can read the full report here.

The most interesting part of the report for me is that of the Family Reading Context, which discusses the influence a child’s family can have in determining their reading habits later in life. The following factors were most relevant:

  1. Children who lived with 30 or more books when aged 4 – 5 were more likely to enjoy reading at age 10 – 11 years than those who lived in households with fewer than 30 books.
  2. Visiting a library when aged 4 – 5 years was positively associated with children’s engagement in reading at age 10 – 11 years. Children who had visited a library when aged 4 – 5 years were more likely to enjoy reading than those who had not.
  3. Children aged 10 – 11 years who were read to when aged 4- 5 years were more likely to enjoy reading.

Whilst this study does not really provide us with any new information in children’s reading habits, it helps to reinforce our beliefs about the important strategies in how we get children to read and become readers. Interestingly the above three findings relate well to the Reading Rules, especially Reading Rule no. 1 Create the right environment; Reading Rule no. 2 Be a role model; Reading Rule no 3. Read to them and Reading Rule no. 8: Ask an expert.

Every day in my work I am reminded of the power of reading. Just last week there was a public speaking competition in the library, and one of the speakers, an articulate and confident young lady, gave an impassioned speech about her love of books and reading. This made me quickly scan the faces of the entrants from my school and I noted that every one of them was a regular library user and regular reader. I have no doubt that there is a direct correlation between their reading habits and abilities as confident public speakers.

Developing positive reading habits is the key, and as the LSAC report illustrates, it all starts with a few simple routines in the home.

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Top 10 books in the library

These are the Top 10 books in the library at the moment.

The library is in a boys’ secondary school and the Top 10 clearly reflects the teenage male demographic.

1. I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore.

This takes out the number one spot thanks largely to the release of the 2nd book in the series (see no. 4). Through word of mouth, the popularity of this series is spreading and the boys are scrambling to read the first book so they can move on in the series.

2. The Dead of the Night by John Marsden.

This is the second book in the Tomorrow series. Despite being first published in 1993, this book is consistently popular with teenagers.

3. People’s Republic by Robert Muchamore.

The first book in a new series of the Cherub franchise, this time introducing a new protagonist: the young Ryan Sharma.

4. The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore.

This is the second book in the Lorien Legacies series. This series is genius, and a winner with the boys. See my review here.

5. Department 19 by Will Hill.

Best book of the year. See my review here.

6. Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden.

Marsden really tapped into something in the teenage psyche with this series. The movie adaptation has renewed interest in this wonderful book.

7. Burning for Revenge by John Marsden.

Number 5 in the Tomorrow series.

8. Dark Fire by Chris d’Lacey.

The only fantasy book to make the Top 10, this is the fifth book in the Last Dragon Chronicles. 

9. Just tricking by Andy Griffiths.  

Thank you Year 7 for including some timeless Andy Griffiths’ fun in this list.

10. The Maze Runner by James Dashner.

A brilliant dystopian novel – the first in a trilogy. The second book The Scorch Trials is also extremely popular and the last book is eagerly anticipated by the boys.

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A century of reading

To be honest, the title of this post is a little misleading. It refers to my dear grandfather, whom we all called Pop. He died last Wednesday aged 102. Whilst he didn’t spend a century reading, he must have spent the best part of one hundred years with a book of some sort in his hand.

Pop reading

Reflecting on Pop’s magnificent life, one significant aspect that dominates all memories of him was his love of books. He spent much of his life reading. In an age with few screens, he learned by the printed page and he loved the written word.

Whilst he left school at 14, Pop was one of the most well-educated men I’ve ever known. Everything he learned was self-taught through reading and books. He even completed his engineering qualifications by correspondence, back in the days when correspondence was through the post and not online.

My memories of Pop nearly always involve him with some sort of reading material: books, newspapers, journals and his bible. Not only was he well-read, he was widely read. He could quote poetry by Robert Burns, sonnets by Shakespeare and passages from his well-thumbed bible. If there is such a thing as a reading gene, I am sure he passed it on to my mother who obligingly sent it down the genetic path to me.

This makes me consider my Reading Rules and whether they apply to my family history: Pop certainly created the right environment for his children and grandchildren to become readers. Clearly he was the epitome of a reading role model. He did read aloud – passages he found illuminating or entertaining. He would also recite passsages  from his favourite works. Although he lived the majority of his life before ebooks became a reality, he certainly did re-define book insofar as he read anything: the Sunday comics, magazines, newsletters and catalogues. As for not being a literary snob, he found Dagwood and Blondie hilarious, which also meant he didn’t have to loosen his filter too much – Pop loved a bit of toilet humour and could recite a colourful limerick with the best of them. If it was written, he would read it and encourage us to read it as well.

Rule Seven is a bit tricky: remember it’s the 21st century. Pop was someone who moved with the times, and in his day was quick to learn and adopt new inventions. However, he was well into his 80’s by the time the Internet hit our shores, and then well into his 90’s before Facebook and social media became part of our everyday vocabulary. But Rule Eight is a winner, as Pop was quick to ask an expert about anything and everything – he learned by asking and listening and received some very expert advice on reading matter in his time. He made reading routine – it was a part of his daily existence and quite simply defined who he was. And Pop never, ever gave up on anything.

For the best part of a century my dear grandfather demonstrated the Reading Rules to his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, simply by loving and sharing his passion for the written word.

Goodbye dearest Pop. You will be missed, but your reading legacy lives on in us all.

For a more thorough explanation of the Reading Rules, head over to that page here

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Reading Rule 1

Rule 1. Create the right environment.

Readers surround themselves with books. You will visit the home of a good reader and see bookshelves groaning under the weight of various tomes, bedside tables holding a stack of books and the odd book on the coffee table. If you delve inside the bag of a reader, you will often find a well-loved, dog eared paperback. So rule one is simple: create the right environment by surrounding yourself, and your kids, with books.

This may seem like an obvious statement, and a silly rule, but it is not. There are many houses in this country in which there are few (if any) books. In a wealthy, developed country like ours, this is a very odd thing. There are third world countries in which education and knowledge is valued far more than in our society, and maybe we take what is available for granted. But just because books are so readily available in our country does not always translate into these books being taken into our homes.

Children can’t learn to cook without the ingredients, they can’t learn to play cricket without a bat and ball, and they can’t learn to play piano without the instrument.

They can’t learn to read without a book.

It is not difficult to create the right environment – a reading environment – in your home. All it takes is a bookcase, or bookshelf and a nice comfy chair and voila! You have yourself a reading corner and the beginnings of a reading environment.

Books are easy to collect. Yes, they can be expensive, and if you can afford to treat yourself, by all means buy beautiful new books. Make them a treat. When my children were much younger, I used to make a special trip to the bookshop in the school holidays and each of my children was allowed to pick one book. We would then retreat to the local café for a coffee and hot chocolate, over which we would excitedly pore over our new books. It was special time together, and my teenage children still treasure those ‘holiday books’.

However, if money is tight, there are always book sales, second hand bookshops and of course, the local library. You can borrow books, of course, but many libraries have regular sales where they sell off the books they no longer need in their collection at very low prices.

In addition, if you put the word out to family and friends that you’re on the lookout for some books, you may well be overwhelmed by donations. Gradually you will build up your own little ‘library’.

If you make your home a place where books are seen, loved and treasured you are sending an important message to your child: In this house books are valued. That means books are important.

More importantly, by creating the right environment – a reading environment- you are providing your children with the tools to get started.

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