For the kids, the long hot summer of ’14 is nearing its end. For the parents, another long school year lies ahead and with it attempts to get children to put their playthings aside and get into classroom mode – back to reading, writing, and homework.
It’s not fair to expect children to make the transition from holiday freedom to the rigidity of school so swiftly. It is especially difficult for younger pupils, those whose summer holidays seemed to last a lifetime. Plucking them from long sun-drenched days of scabby knees and sweets and seasides is almost an act of cruelty.
However, there may be a way to smoothe the path back to learning. Since the month of August hosts fun and entertainment, and the month of September features so many books, merging the two in the final weeks of the holidays offers a chance to acclimatise – read for fun. By getting kids interested in stories and storytelling prior to the return to school, the sight of a book won’t come as such a shock when it’s wielded by a teacher.
The canny folk at Eason have put together age-appropriate book lists to help parents select the best fictional title for the job. Each of the three lists of ‘back to school must-reads’ feature an Irish author. They can also act as gateways to entire series or other titles by bestsellling writers.
The BFG: Roald Dahl
Butterfly Lion: Michael Murpurgo
The Giggler Treatment: Roddy Doyle
Horrid Henry series: Francesca Simon
Goodnight Mister Tom: Michelle Magorian
Danny the Champion of the World: Roald Dahl
Skulduggery Pleasant series: Derek Landy
Harry Potter series: JK Rowling
Hetty Feather: Jacqueline Wilson
The Book Thief: Markus Zusak
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: Mark Haddon
I Capture the Castle: Dodie Smith
The Boy in Striped Pyjamas: John Boyne
“Our list of back to school must-reads incorporates a mixture of excitement and inspiration,” said Stephen Boylan, Book Buyer at Eason. “For any mischievous boys and girls out there, the Horrid Henry series is a must-read to get their young minds focused again. For young teenagers, a real modern classic like John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas looks at World War II in an incredibly moving way while Haddon’s Curious Incident is a book that parents will want to pick up as soon as their teens have finished it. After a summer of being outdoors, these books are the ideal selection for kids and young adults to discover in preparation for their first day back at school.”
Cynics would tut-tut the apparent blatant attempt by a major store to sell some of its fictional wares while parents are in store ticking off book lists. However, there is proof that introducing reading to children as a leisure pursuit outside of school has enormous advantages. According to the people at the coalface, they can easily tell the difference between children who read – or are read to – at home and those who do not. A bedtime story not only helps your little one to go to sleep, it also helps them at school too.
“We can easily tell the difference,” says Geraldine Barry, a special needs assistant teacher at St Mary’s on the Hill primary school, in Cork City. “Children who are read to by their parents at home have an understanding of the structure of stories and also the expression of ideas. They understand basic things like sentence formation, reading from left to right, things like that.”
Meanwhile, older children who have had classic stories such as Little Red Riding Hood hardwired into their brains from a young age “will always butt in and reveal what happens next”. Fairy tales aren’t classics for nothing, you know. With these stories, not only can children increase their vocabulary, but they also learn essential universal themes such as good versus evil (Snow White), morality (The Tortoise and the Hare), the rule of three (Goldilocks and the Three Bears), and tolerance of minority groups (The Ugly Duckling).
Ms Barry’s advice to parents who don’t read to their children is to start with the books that will be introduced in school. “One teacher I worked with always said that reading to a child is as basic as giving them their dinner. I think parents or guardians should read to a child every day, not necessarily at bedtime. It will help with their imaginations, help with their play, and allow them to make up their own stories. I also agree with the idea that parents should be seen reading by their young children.”
It’s worth repeating – reading to a child is as basic as giving them their dinner. Feeding their imaginations will help them to grow up and have a better understanding of the world. It’s not just something they will use in school and college. Learning how to read is not just about books. All forms of storytelling involve reading – from journalism to film to opera. If our children don’t learn how to read properly then they’ll never truly understand the message in a movie or know how to read between the lines in a newspaper article.
This article originally appeared in the Irish Examiner, August 19, 2014
For more on this topic see: Bedtime Stories