I know of a family who have a Christmas tradition called “Dad’s book”. Dad spends several weeks before Christmas wandering around bookshops looking for all kinds of books that will interest his family - cookery books, biographies, novels, travel books or joke books. Everyone in the family gets given their book to open at the same time and for a few minutes in the chaos of present opening the only sound is that of pages turning.
I passionately believe there is a book out there for everyone – and when you find it, a person’s experience of reading can be changed for ever. Like it does for this Dad, it just takes a bit of time and effort to find the right one. There are some children who will devour books as soon as they can – they’ll give anything a go – and there are others who are far more reluctant: it’s going to take a whole lot more effort for them simply to learn to read, let alone love it. It is this group of readers that Learn to Love to Read hopes to inspire and encourage.
Our teams of trained volunteers work one-on-one in schools, supporting children who are struggling to learn to read. By working with the same children throughout the academic year, our volunteers build relationships with the children, getting to know them and finding out what makes them tick. They search out books that will inspire even the most reluctant reader – perhaps a reading scheme book based on a hobby, or a factual book about something the child is already interested in. They also spend time reading the children stories, showing that books are there for them to enjoy and giving them confidence to pick one up for themselves.
A volunteer shares her story: “My first meeting with one of the children didn’t have the most promising of starts – he told me very clearly that he thought all books were boring and he didn’t want to learn to read. So I spent our first couple of sessions together not looking at a single book, but trying to find out what interested him by talking to him, asking him questions and just getting to know him. I discovered he was fascinated by sea creatures and I promised that we could spend some time learning about sea creatures together. Week three arrived, and armed with my sea creatures factual book I collected the young boy from the classroom. Before he had a chance to remind me again of his hatred for books, I put the sea creatures book on the desk. His eyes lit up. I encouraged him to open it and have a look. After a few minutes, I asked him if he still thought all books were boring – “not if they are about something I like” came the reply. It was as though a light switch had been turned on. Several weeks later, and with the weekly promise of spending some of our time together looking at a book about sea creatures, we were back on track with the school reading scheme, and he was making good progress.”
Every year on World Book Day, I have the pleasure of seeing from my desk the children from the local primary school proudly walk past dressed up as a character from their favourite book. Some are easy to work out – characters from the classics, popular films based on books and fairy tales. But perhaps the ones I enjoy the most are those that aren’t from story books at all – a footballer from a Premier Club’s Annual, a scientist from a book about inventors of the past, a historical character from Horrible Histories. It reminds me that there is a book out there for everyone, you just need to find it.
This blog first appeared on The London Community Foundation Blog in March 2018.