Friday, 27 June 2014

Nine year old devours 364 books in 7 Miriam Halahmy

There are more and more articles in the newspaper about remarkable reading marathons by children. 9 year old Faith Jackson from Cheshire loves reading so much she has devoured hundreds of books in less than a year. "I mostly like books with animals or magic or adventure in them," says Faith - so that's most of them, then
A five year old in Louisiana has apparently read 875 books in a year according to her school librarian.
How a time when we are constantly told that children are not reading, spend all their time on computer games, etc. etc.
But actually, that wasn't my initial reaction.
My first thought was - Lucky girl!
When I was a child I simply didn't have access to 364 fresh new books in a year, or even two years, let alone 7 months. Growing up in the 1950s we didn't buy books, we went to the library. We were only allowed to borrow three books a week and as children we had no access to the adult library until we were 11 years old.

It took me less than a day to read my library books.
We had a school library, two shelves of musty dog-eared books about things like pond life, about which I had no interest, but always borrowed a book whenever given the opportunity out of sheer desperation. We could only take out one book twice a term.
Other than that, I had two books which my mother was given as a child:-
Little Women - for which I am eternally grateful and must have read it about a hundred times. It was given to Mum by her siblings when she was a child and we both loved it. Then I gave it to my daughter.Our copy is nearly eighty years old.

The Flowers and their story - my mother loved flowers and could name all the wild flowers even though she was born in London.

I won two books as school prizes; The Secret Garden, probably my favourite book ever and a picture book, Animal Babies. The photos are all in black and white and I used to kiss the pictures of the sweet baby animals. ( Very edgy!)

I was also given a book by my aunt when I passed the eleven plus - The Island of Blue Dolphins, which I also loved and must have read dozens of times.

But how to get books? That was the biggest issue of my childhood. My unquenched thirst for books.
One trick was to go through the bookshelf ( they didn't have more than one) of wealthier friends/ relatives and say, "Any books you've finished with?" I usually came away with two or three. Generally at least one was an annual and one a book I wasn't that interested in, but I wasn't picky. I would read the instructions on a washing packet if there was nothing else.

Once I had read all the borrowed, begged and presented books then I always had Arthur Mee's set of encyclopaedias - all ten volumes. Here began my love of poetry as I read aloud, copied out and learnt off by heart reams of poems from Wordsworth to A Frog He Would A-Wooing Go. I read them until they threatened to fall to pieces and I still have them today. They went through my children and are gearing themselves up to grandchildren.

But our children had access to any amount of books they could read, with school libraries, public libraries they could visit every single day of the week if they chose, books in sales, books in charity shops, books as presents and books bought just because they wanted to read them.

Yes - I can't help looking back on the child I was and feeling rather jealous - but I am also delighted to be living in a time when a nine year old child ( in some parts of the world) can read a thousand books a year if she/he wishes and is able to.
It's not a race - it's all about access and now with Kindle - the sky's the limit.

Friday, 20 June 2014

At the Edge of the World Cup: Football and Reading—a winning combination?

By the time this post goes live, we will be eight days into the 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals. It’s hard to escape football, with news and comment from Brazil dominating the airwaves and filling the streets. I like football, but I appreciate it’s not for everyone. In fact, I imagine some readers will be on the verge of clicking away to another post—but stay with me.

There are a lot of young sports fans out there, most of whom would much rather be outside kicking, or hitting, a ball than settling down with a book—but maybe sport and reading have more in common than we think. 

As a supporter of an extraordinarily unsuccessful football team, I’ve long been aware of the drama inherent in the game—in fact, what is a football match if not the classic quest story? All the ingredients are there: a closely knit band of brothers (a fellowship if you will) in search of a mythical trophy (believe me, for many fans, such trophies are indeed the stuff of legend). These protagonists are watched over by a manager or coach—an older, sometimes enigmatic figure—guiding them with words of wisdom from the sidelines. We have conflict—adversaries trying to stop our heroes from obtaining their goal. These opposing forces are often more powerful and ruthless than our plucky idols. There is a beginning, a middle and an end; a repeating series of try/fail cycles where our players attempt to use what skills they have to achieve their aims; we have characters, heroes and villains: the angry one; a young hopeful; the mercurial maverick; the legendary almost magical one; the unlikely hero waiting on the bench. As for the setting—what could be more dramatic and evocative than a full football stadium? That palpable sense of anticipation, hope and fear, carried across the floodlit field by thousands of voices raised in song. If you like stories containing heroism, a struggle against the odds, conflict, glory and failure … the World Cup Finals might not be such a bad place to look.

But can sport provide a way into reading? Once the finals are over, there will be many young fans feeling a sense of loss—a World Cup shaped hole in their lives—and there are thousands of great books that could plug that gap. Apart from the many biographies and magazines, there is a wealth of sports fiction available. I wish authors like Mal Peet, Tom Palmer and Helena Pielichaty had been writing when I was growing up, not to mention the impressive list of authors who have written about football on the National Literacy Trust’s Premier League Reading Stars website.

Here are a few links to resources that may be helpful in tempting young sports fans to pick up a book …

Premier League Reading Stars FREE World Cup resources

Charlie Merrick’s Misfits in Fouls, Friends and Football by Dave Cousins, is out now, published by Oxford University Press.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Why We Should Read YA and Fairy Tales

by Edge Author Katie Dale 

There’s been a lot in the press lately about what you should and shouldn’t read, from Gove’s rejigging of GCSE set texts, to Dawkins’ views on Fairy Tales to Ruth Graham’s criticism of adults reading YA. I love books, yet for me nothing threatens this love more than being told what I can and can’t read. English was always my favourite subject ast GCSE and A level, and I didn’t think twice when choosing English Literature as my degree subject. However, that was precisely when it became a chore. Suddenly I had to read a LOT of books in a short space of time, I couldn’t choose any of them, and many of them I disliked. I remember plodding through one dry, never-ending novel, imbibing endless cups of coffee as I forced myself to finish it. Reading was no longer fun, and what’s worse, I stopped reading for pleasure as I simply didn’t have the time.

It was the same when taking piano lessons as a child. I loved playing the piano, but scales and arpeggios sucked the love right out of it, till finally I refused to take exams altogether. Of course I understand both that academic courses need to have set texts, and that dutifully practicing my scales and arpeggios might have made me a better pianist, but I wanted to play music and songs I enjoyed – I wanted playing the piano to be fun, not a boring chore, and by ditching the grades, my love of the piano remains intact. 

Likewise, I rediscovered reading for pleasure once the constraints of set texts had been lifted, and consequently flinch at being told what I should and shouldn’t read for pleasure in my own leisure time. 

As it so happens, I write exactly the kind of stories that have caused such controversy lately – Fairy Tales (or rather, twisted versions) and YA “crossover” novels that I hope both adults and teens alike will enjoy. Consequently, it may come as no surprise that I believe that we  shouldn’t feel guilty for reading fairy tales or YA.
And here are some reasons why.

Fairy Tales

1) They excite and expand children’s imagination – in a world of magic ANYTHING can happen! 

2) They introduce children to the elements of story-building: setting, character, plot etc the building bricks for their own future stories.

3) Fairy Tales teach children valuable lessons disguised as fantastical, enjoyable stories: don’t talk to strangers; don’t lie; don’t judge by appearances. They also provide a moral compass, teaching us about the importance of love, honor, sacrifice, hope, courage, hard work, and  justice.

4) They provide a “safe” environment in which to introduce children to real-life darker issues such as child cruelty, abduction etc

5) Fairy Tales simultaneously cross cultural boundaries and give us a common language. Pretty much every child knows the story of Cinderella, despite cultural variations. 


1) Teens are some of the most discerning readers out there. They have no time for padding, lazy plotting or pages of description – their attention span is arguably too short. Consequently, YA novels are among the most fast-paced, action packed, page-turning books out there.

2) They engage with important, relevant and often controversial issues, without being heavy-handed or preachy. 

3) YA goes to some dark places, but always retains an element of optimism. You may weep buckets by the end of a YA novel, but seldom will you finish reading and sink into depression. That’s not to say that they all have happy endings – far from it – but on the whole the reader closes the book feeling satisfied. 

4) If you’re the parent of a teen, reading YA can be a bonding experience. Relating to teenagers as an adult can be tricky at the best of times, but YA allows an inlet into the psyche of the teen. Read the books they love, discuss them, debate with them, or use them as a pathway into a conversation about topics or issues that otherwise may perhaps seem too heavy or awkward.

5) Because YA is an age group rather than a genre, it allows for huge diversity in content, theme and even structure. YA books can be contemporary, paranormal, historical, dystopian, fantasy, mystery, horror, science fiction, romantic, written in verse, stream-of-consciousness, or even graphic novel. But more than that, they can be more than one of these at the same time. 

Katie Dale is the author of YA novels SOMEONE ELSE'S LIFE and LITTLE WHITE LIES and the Orchard Crunchies series FAIRY TALE TWISTS