Between the ages of 4 and 11, I must have read a thousand books. I simply devoured the written word. Beginning with ‘Each, Peach, Pear, Plum’ and ‘Peter Rabbit’, moving on to anything written by Roald Dahl and Judy Blume’s classic ‘Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great’ and graduating to ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier (still one of my favourite novels). At school I loved quiet reading time, and class reading time. I was a precocious reader and my parents would put me to bed safe in the knowledge that I would either read myself to sleep, or at least stay awake, but in bed, reading.
But something happened when I turned 11, or more precisely, when I left primary school. I can pinpoint the moment I lost interest in books. It happened to coincide with our first book study – ‘Of Mice and Men’, actually, let’s be honest here, the dissecting, examining the where’s, why’s and how’s killed my love of reading. Learning about literature, it seemed, was not the same as reading.
It wasn’t until five years later, on a long car journey, when I picked up ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, that I got back into reading again.
It, therefore, came as no surprise to me (although it did sadden me) to read in the news that there has been a sharp decline in reading for pleasure among children and young people. It would appear that the most common “reading choices” for children and young people include text messages and emails (Douglas & Clark, 2011) , although I’d be the first to admit that my number one reading choice, aged 14, was ‘Just 17’ magazine.
The evidence to support reading for pleasure is robust, with Clark & Rumbold’s 2006  review of research identifying several areas of benefit, including:
- Reading attainment and writing ability.
- Text comprehension and grammar.
- Breadth of vocabulary.
- Positive reading attitudes.
- Greater self-confidence as a reader.
- Pleasure in reading in later life.
- General knowledge.
- A better understanding of other cultures.
- Community participation.
- A greater insight into human nature and decision-making.
The new national curriculum has already established the need for more frequent and improved reading and literacy among children of all ages, but are teachers ready to move away from the traditionally prescriptive reading list and in-depth study of literary classics? The latest news from TES is a resounding “YES”.
One in four teachers polled said they read stories to their class every day, with a further third saying they do so a few times per week. More than two fifths said they set aside quiet reading time every day and over half said they regularly set reading as homework.
Pearson and Book Trust, with support from the Department for Education, have this week launched a free, national reading competition called “Read for my School”. The competition challenges children at both primary and secondary school (from years 3 to 8) to read as many books as possible, in a variety of genres and formats. The programme offers 100 online books – free of charge – to those who sign up.
There is also a list of 100 recommended reads in various genres for children of all ages. The list includes film and television based books, such as ‘Paddington Bear’, and ‘Percy and the Lightning Thief’, for those reluctant readers who need a ‘way in’ to reading.
As for me, I recently revisited my favourite childhood novel – ‘What Katy Did’ by Susan Coolidge. I read this story about a girl who falls from a swing and is left unable to walk when I was seven-years-old and had broken my leg after being knocked down by a car. It was given to me as a gift by my mother and has always been special to me. Even at 30, the classic stands the test of time with its mystery and intrigue and, more importantly, its female protagonist; but this was a rare pleasure for me. I am time poor and so finding a quiet hour to read a book is difficult. The phrase “get them while they’re young” doesn’t just refer to the imagination of a child; it should really be “get them while they have time”.
We have a great Secondary Literacy Policy to help you get older kids into reading. What was your favourite childhood book? Let us know @_TheSchoolBus on Twitter.
 Douglas, J. & Clark, C., 2011. Young People’s Reading and Writing. [Online]
Available at: http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0001/0177/Attitudes_towards_Reading_Writing_Final_2011.pdf
[Accessed 22 January 2015].
 Clark, C. & Rumbold, K., 2006. Reading for Pleasure. [Online]
Available at: http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0000/0562/Reading_pleasure_2006.pdf
[Accessed 22 January 2015].