Flying Start catches up with T. M. Alexander, mum of three, who left LloydsTSB to pursue writing for children.
My friend used to rifle through book bags, desperate to map the reading stages of the keymovers and shakers in her child’s class. Her mantra – know your enemy. To clarify, we’re talking Year 2 here – the year some precocious infants are spied reading independently. If your child is struggling with Biff and Chip (and will only try reading with mummy if Haribo’s involved), watching his classmate storming through Michael Morpurgo can induce panic. Don’t let it.
There are two issues here, competition and reading.
Let’s dispose of one. Walking, talking and tossing pancakes earlier than the next child are no indication of anything, and neither is reading. So, bear in mind Netmums’ Real Parenting approach and go easy on yourself (and your child), make allies not enemies, and trust your instincts.
It was a mission of mine not to play the playground game. The downside was that I never got invited on the mums’ weekends away. (Is that a downside?) The upsides were that I was unaware of the glut of after school achievements, and the friends I made when my children were small are few and enduring. My eldest is now 16 and apparently unharmed (although he doesn’t know where Middle C is and can’t follow tennis scores). But he reads.
So, onto reading, which is undoubtedly an essential tool, but not one that demands you wield it by a particular age. Believe me, I have three examples among my three children.
The eldest, a boy, showed no interest in reading, but loved me to read aloud about dinosaurs and tractors. So I bought dinosaur and tractor books, and became an expert in Parasaurolophus and John Deere. Reading is reading, whether it’s the Shreddies’ box or The Simpsons magazine. Eventually he started reading non-fiction books, and stories came later.
The next boy was a parent’s dream. He swallowed chapter books, newspapers andpropaganda from The Liberal Party. But be careful what you wish for. I had the reader everyone else wants, but what I wanted was to see him kicking a ball with muddy knees and a ripped shirt.
My daughter only liked the pictures. Like many reluctant readers, she could read perfectly well but lacked the inclination. I laboured through Gwyneth Rees, Jeremy Strong and so on, reading to her every night. One day I said she looked like Anne of Green Gables. It’s a long novel with old-fashioned language, despite which it was the first chapter book my daughter read alone. She was Year 6. So be patient. Reading for pleasure has to be exactly that, a joy. It can be facilitated, but not controlled.
When I decided to write for children my boys were 7 and 9. Many of their friends either didn’t read or were stuck on Horrid Henry. It’s an enormous leap to go from there to the fantasy worlds of the Philips, Pullman and Reeve. While Jacqueline Wilson bridges the gap well for girls there seemed less for boys, so I created the Tribe series. I used the familiar settings of home and school, broke up the pages by inserting random facts, and split each book into three so the reader didn’t have to wade through 150 pages for the plot to be resolved.
There’s a longer article about how I tried to appeal to reluctant readers on this children’s literature blog: