Book Nook

Published: Sunday October 5, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Tuesday October 7, 2014 MYT 8:09:07 PM

Casting her witchy spell

Make reading time, family time and get all the kids involved -- even the neighbour's! -- Wikimedia Commons

Make reading time, family time and get all the kids involved -- even the neighbour's! -- Wikimedia Commons

Book Nook columnist Abby Wong specialises in getting kids who hate reading to love books

“A novel way to start the day is a noble way,” a friend once said. That nobility is not granted to many, I suppose. Who can leisurely pick up a novel when we all have to get going almost before we’re fully awake every morning?

Although I cannot afford to linger to read in bed, I do wake up many a-time thinking of books. What books to buy for my children to replenish the piles that are dwindling? What book should I read to my students this afternoon? Yes. Unbeknownst to many, I have the fabulous job of reading to students: for a small fee, 35 primary school kids visit me at home to share books with me.

A few years ago, while looking for things to do that would not make me feel like I was re-joining the rat race, I met a mother who was having trouble getting her son to read. She wished her son would read more so he could be top of his class in English, as he already was in Math. I didn’t break into tears ... until she asked if I could teach her son to read. Does anyone (who knows how to) need to be taught to read? Just pick up a book and read. No?

It was later that I realised most children of immigrant parents, although born and raised in Australia, read only to the extent demanded by their teachers. But kids who do not genuinely love reading will have difficulty later. Not only will they find it hard to fully grasp the underlying meaning in texts, they will also struggle to express themselves. All this has been proven time and again.

So I took the boy on board, knowing that he was mouldable, being only seven years old. I started with Mark Carthew’s The Gobbling Tree, and along with my own kids, we read and laughed aloud while I pretended to be scared. Later, we progressed to chapter books. I read to him from boyish books like Megan McDonald’s Stink series and Michael Wagner’s The Undys.

An hour a week, and about three months later, we began our Roald Dahl journey. We discussed the moral behind each story and highlighted words to be learned and used.

As we noted the beautiful descriptions and identified the varying nature of Dahl’s sentences, the boy began to write short reviews to practise writing like Roald Dahl, and then longer narratives to hone his descriptive skills.

I bought him books, though he was not my child. And because I wanted to make books exciting, whenever I presented him with one, I would act foolishly excited. In no time at all, our roles changed. He was too eager to sit and listen to me read to him, he wanted to read to me. Three years later he “graduated”, having finished E.H. Gombrich’s A Little History Of The World, the last book I bought him, and signed in place of Gombrich.

A multitude of kids have come into my life since that little boy, all of whom I have read to. They may arrive hating books but they all leave loving them. There is no magic. I simply read, using different voices, dramatic and comical voices, and a lot of zeal and earnestness. I want them to know how much fun stories are, and they tend to find my enthusiasm highly amusing. Some call me a book witch who loves to cast spells on children and turn them into bookworms. That’s what I am.

In my experience, readers are inevitably writers. Grammar fixes itself when a child reads and words latch onto a child’s mind and their meaning reveal themselves, if not instantly then later, without him having to consult a dictionary. Reading expands imagination, a quality that opens the door to creativity, open-mindedness, adaptability and flexibility. Reading grounds a child, making them more at ease with stillness or nothingness. A child who reads feel less hyper because when he is not reading, his mind takes him to places he read about or that he conjures up on his own with his ever-burgeoning imagination.

I have seen all these qualities absent in a child and abundant when he begins to read widely. Why not you try reading to your child? For younger children, read to them. For older ones you can pretend to like a book and invite him to read it with you. Try Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant series or any of John Green’s highly popular books. Just 20 a day to start with and, soon, you will see him devouring books without you.

Abby Wong understands the difficulty of finding the right books to lure a child into reading. Find them you will at the many book sites on the Internet. If you’re in Malaysia, take your child to Kinokuniya Bookstores at Suria KLCC. Having worked there, Abby knows that its children section is overflowing with good books, and good staff stand ready to assist.

Tags / Keywords: Column, Book Nook, Abby Wong, reading, children, reading habit

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Make reading time, family time and get all the kids involved -- even the neighbour's! -- Wikimedia Commons

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