Monday, 25 April 2016

World Book Day: Learning to Love Books....



… by any means possible



Unpacking Samantha
Unpacking the new doll…..



It was World Book Day on Saturday, and last week the New Statesman magazine ran a special literacy week.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I rarely write anything about my own family, but this time I am making a books-related exception. My daughter contributed a piece to the NS literacy theme: she wrote about how she made the jump from spelling out words to being a proper reader, and started by asking me what I remembered about this key moment in her life. Strangely enough, there is a link between clothes and books here: she was bribed with a doll to dress up…

Below you can read my version of the story.

Then, you can go to the New Statesman and read the contributions of three young people describing how they learned to love books: my daughter’s is the third, she is Barbara Speed. All of them are charming memoirs.

Whereas mine is
 

a murky tale of capitalism, bribery and dolls



Our family moved from England to Seattle in January 97:  my husband, and me, and our two children – our daughter Barbara was 5 and our son, Alexander, 3. A new colleague with similarly-aged children invited us round in a welcoming manner: their little girl had an American Girl (AG) doll and Barbara was immediately desperate to have one herself.

I investigated these dolls – they were very expensive, and the assumption was that you would later buy more clothes and accessories for them, also spendy. We would normally only buy such a thing for her birthday, which was a long way off. 

Then I read an interview with the owner of the AG company, a formidable businesswoman called Pleasant Rowland. She said very firmly that although this was an unpopular opinion, and not in her own interests, she believed no girl should have an AG doll until she could read unaided an American Girl book.

I got hold of a book, and it was way ahead of what my daughter was doing at the time. (One of the books that came home with her from her Kindergarten class contained the sentences: Chip hits zip. It’s a Fly!  - neither of us was able to make head nor tail of the baseball references.) I had felt some concern because she wasn’t advancing in reading nearly as much as I thought she should, even allowing for the move, time not in school etc.

So I decided to use her love for the doll: I said she could have Samantha when she could read proper books – so she had to demonstrate this by reading a number which I think was 20. She got a sticker for each one, for a chart on the fridge.  They had to be a bit more than a picture book – less than a full-scale chapter book. She and I also ploughed our way through the first Samantha book (I thought it was turgid and not particularly well-written) and I could see that Barbara wasn’t really going to be ready for that when the doll had been earned. But still, I was convinced that she was perfectly capable of reading a lot better than she was.

 
yellowstone 99 B A and Samantha
Samantha on B’s shoulders at Yellowstone Park
 
I was right – she completely took off with reading  then, having realized over a couple of weeks that if she could read fast she could read great stories, didn’t have to read boring simple books or persuade people to read to her.  And very quickly she was demanding 4 books from the library, bringing books home from school and reading them overnight. Her reading style and capability literally did change very dramatically in those few weeks. And has continued (mother’s boast) to the extent of doing a degree in English Literature at Oxford University.


B and Samantha 97 ferry to Olympics
Barbara and Samantha

It was complete and blatant bribery, on some very shaky ground, but bizarrely it all cancelled out to have exactly the right outcome.



We owe a debt of gratitude to Pleasant Rowland and American Girl – though not a debt of money, we ended up spending a fortune there.



Katy hat profileSamantha has appeared on the blog before now – for  a book called Happyland by J Robert Lennon (which is most emphatically NOT ABOUT Pleasant Rowland in any way at all) and as Katy from What Katy Did at School, and actually as my avatar for a time.
 American Girl 1
American Girl 2



















24 comments:

  1. What an absolutely lovely story, Moira, and thank you for sharing your own family's personal experiences with learning to love reading. What a great idea to use something your daughter was already interested in to also share books with her. Among other things, it all shows just how important it is to help young readers find personal connections with what they're reading. Oh, and those are lovely 'photos!

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    1. Thank you Margot! I am proud to have raised two keen readers, and that they share my love of books. And yes, it does seem that the key might be finding the right subject for the individual child.

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  2. Enjoyed both yours and your daughter's versions. It takes different things to motivate children to read, your daughter's was a bit pricey, but well worth it. We were lucky, and surprised, our daughter taught herself to read (watching Sesame Street and the Electric Company), she devoured books.

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    1. Thanks Janet, and thanks for sharing your story - TV can have such a positive influence as well as the feared negatives...

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  3. I can read thanks entirely to my Mother. The teachers at my local school managed to make literacy so boring that I simply didn't learn to read. When they realised that I couldn't, they gave me various intelligence tests, and when it turned out that I wasn't educationally subnormal they decided that the best way of teaching me to read was to shout at me. None of this was communicated to my family, of course.

    When I eventually told my Mother she took immediate action. She got hold of a plastic alphabet-bribing me to create longer and longer words in return for those small chocolates called Smarties. She told me that if I learnt to read then she would buy me as many comics and books as I wanted, and I held her to that. By the end of the year my reading age was several years ahead of the rest of the class, and I had started to indulge one of the great pleasures of my life...reading. Giving a person the gift of reading is one of the greatest things that you can do for them, although two of the rooms of my house are essentially libraries, and the others all have books somewhere in them, so it's also turned into an addiction!

    My Mother died a few years ago, so this is just to say, Thanks Mum! You gave me one of the greatest gifts ever.

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    1. That's lovely Gary, thank so much for sharing that. We all have our own stories, and they are so important. And I'm glad that bribery worked for you too...

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  4. A great story, Moira! My own daughter was like yours: as soon as she discovered reading she was off as from starting blocks. The only trouble was that, after she became nine or ten, I kept discovering my own shelves had mysterious gaps in them, as for missing teeth. Once I'd explained that such filching was fine so long as she put them back when she'd finished with them -- i.e., I didn't have to go dredging for them through the foot-deep layer of garments and worse on her bedroom floor -- all went swimmingly.

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    1. Thanks and yes exactly - I think all parents know that feeling when you want to tell off for the missing books, but are really pleased that THAT is what is going missing...

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    2. Oh, I didn't at all want to tell her off for borrowing my books! It was just the not putting of them back that irked. Once that was sorted out she was borrowing them by the armful . . . grinning back at a grinning daddy.

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    3. Oh that's so nice. Thanks for this... A nice picture of life chez noirencyclpedia...

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  5. I love this story! I teach second grade, and I've seen over and over again that having a large, diverse classroom library insures that very nearly all of my students will find a genre that they are passionate about before the end of the year. Just recently, one of my students who came to my class barely reading discovered biographies and his reading ability has sky rocketed!! PS: I have TONS of American Girl books in my library!

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    1. Great - you sound like everyone's perfect teacher. That's so much what we all want for our children, and I so agree that that's the way to catch them.

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  6. Moira: What a wonderful post and I equally enjoyed Barbara's story. She is a fine writer.

    Our younger son read only what he needed to until Grade 8. That school year his English teacher required everyone in class to read a book and write a letter to the author instead of writing a book report. We were surprised when Michael took on a lengthy Michael Crichton book. To his joy Crichton not only replied but also sent him an autographed colour photo. Michael got the photo framed the day he received it and proudly put it beside his bed with his framed autographed photo of Ken Griffey Jr. I have often wished I had written to Crichton thanking for his kindness towards a teenager reader. Michael, inspired by Crichton, has been an avid reader ever since that time.

    I loved Barbara's sweater. It is so bright and cheerful!

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    1. Bill: thanks - what a great story that is. When you think what a successful and busy man Crichton must have been, it is even more impressive - but he was obviously someone who understood the importance of a personal reply.
      Yes, great sweater for the daughter of Clothes in Books...

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  7. I love both these stories. And the comments are lovely, too. And as for bribery, in this case the end really did justify the means. Just call it 'an incentive' as I used to do.

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    1. Yes! I love the way I call it a bribe and Barbara calls it a challenge. This has been such a nice subject to write and read about, there is no downside, and everyone has such great things to say.

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  8. But what is scary, Moira, at least to me, is that 1995 doesn't seem that long ago. It is though! I still look so young in photos of that time and now . . . I'd rather not say!

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    1. Yes, I feel I just the same. Mind you, I note that my hair was very brown back then... not any more!

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  9. Both stories were very good, Moira. I like that Barbara remembered 50 books, you remember 20. My son (who reads voraciously now) did not read until he was 7, and it was very perplexing, to us and to his teacher. He was at an Alternative School, so there was no pressure at either end. We read to him all the time and he loved it, and we continued to do so for a long time. But suddenly one day he just started reading a book to us, and we were just amazed. No stumbling, no hesitation, just reading. Still have no idea what happened.

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    1. My (much) elder bro, the genius of the family, likewise didn't read until he was about seven. (It's why my parents taught me to read by the time I was three or four.) Turned out he really liked being read to in bed at nights. As soon as our parents suggested that room service would not go on forever he was, like your son, reading for himself within a matter of days.

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    2. Looking back, you are probably right about that. At the time, it felt like a miracle.

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    3. I think there may be a good point here, as we manic-reading-parents give our children a top-notch service. I am quite sure it was part of the problem with my children, Barbara and her brother could afford to be lazy...

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