Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Stories and sharing

I read to M, J and A most nights.  I used to read to all four, but L is a bit too old now - he backed out around three years ago.  As the others grow older the stories we share have been able to become more complex too.

For a very long time we were "stuck" with Roald Dahl books.  I say stuck not because they are bad books, but because we read each of them soooooooo many times.

Another author who has been a firm favourite is Enyd Blyton - from The Wishing Chair to The Enchanted Wood, we've been on all those adventures a lot of times too.

J is very fond of Humphrey the classroom hamster, and he has a couple of books we've read, but we've had lots more from the library. I'm glad these are still being written because they are great little stories, with a strong element of "morality tale" to them.  J in particular likes books and TV programs that have an element of "social stories" to them.

A social story is a way of helping children understand people or their surroundings better - they have always been around in the form of books about "my first visit to the dentist" or similar.  They provide a framework for the reader - sometimes it's foreshadowing how things will happen (dentists / doctors / moving house etc), other times it's more helping them to understand emotions or how to react to things (death of a pet, funerals, divorce etc.)

Reading to children does so much good.  The obvious things - spending time, sharing stories, creating connection - are all there from just a few months old.  But there are far more subtle benefits too.  Reading a good book, or listening to one being read, will teach a child more grammar (by osmosis) than a month of lessons.  There is just no substitute for hearing words in context, and you get an instinctual "feel" for how language should be used.  When we read about the "inky black shadows" I don't need to explain the use of metaphor - it is self evident.  A good book will expand vocabulary too - there are lots of times I have to pause to define an obscure word, but never the same word twice.  By listening to stories, the children learn the ebb and flow of language, the rhythms and resonances that define a well crafted story.

At 11 most people would say that M is too old to be read to - but I disagree.  He thoroughly enjoys the stories, and it means that whereas he is not a voracious reader, his mind is still being expanded, and he is visiting new worlds without coercion.

At the moment we are reading the first Redwall book, by Brian Jaques.  I thoroughly enjoyed the set when I was a child, and it looks like M, J and A are going to as well.  The books revolve around the abbey of Redwall, and the mice that live there.  These are anthropomorphised creatures - with clothes and weapons - living in an almost medieval way .

Last night one of the main characters died.  J was in tears and hid.  A short while later we discovered that a second character was not dead (he's been missing) there was laughter, bouncing on beds cheering and "happy dancing".  All three of them have really grown attached to the little mice :)

There have been books we've read, notably Micheal Morpurgo books, that are just too sad for the  children.  Reading to these guys means I need to do some homework before I start!

So, there we are - what are your favourite children's books?

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