Friday 20 May 2011

The Break-through Book by Keren David

Learning to read is a strange process. So much work, so much to remember. As a parent it can be torture, watching your child stumble and strain, worrying that they hate the process so much that they'll never find out all the wonderful things that books can bring.
And then - ta-ra!- the breakthrough book. The book which comes easily, the book which motivates them to read for themselves. The book they read all the way through, all by themselves, and then turn to the beginning and start again. The book which sends them back to the library or the bookshop looking for more of the same.
Six or seven is about the right age for the breakthrough book. For me, it was Enid Blyton and the adventures of the Secret Seven. For my daughter it was Michaela Morgan's Sausage books, discovered in the exceptionally well-stocked library at her primary school. It was one of the great moments of motherhood for me, watching her laugh and laugh at these half-cartoon, half text stories.Seven years later I treasure the memory.
For my son, it was a cover that first sparked his interest -  the sparkly blue of Jenny Nimmo's second Charlie Bone book. He insisted that we bought it, in a bookshop in Sydney, even though it was way beyond his reading ability. About a year later he was ready to read it. The book more than lived up to its cover. He was instantly captivated and no wonder - I don't think I've ever read such exciting stories, there's a cliffhanger on virtually every page.
Earlier this year I wrote to my MP about the cut in funding for Bookstart. I received a reply this week, boasting about the government's plans to introduce a phonics check for six year olds. 'We are determined to ensure that every child can experience the joy of reading for pleasure,' wrote Schools Minister Sarah Teather, 'and reap the educational benefits that it brings.'  I suspect that ensuring that children have access to inviting libraries where they can be guided towards their very own breakthrough book might be a little more useful and pleasurable than an external decoding test at six.
Sue Perkiss wrote a fascinating post on this blog yesterday about books for this age group. I wish they were celebrated more - and I wonder how many children never get started with reading because they never find their very own special book. Do you remember your breakthrough book?


Elen C said...

Mine was James and the Giant Peach. Before that book, I could read..I just didn't much see the point when there were mud-pies to make. After that the book, the world was a bigger, brighter, bolder place than I could ever have imagined.

Great post!

Emma Barnes said...

For me it was Enid Blyton too - my mother loves to recount how she read the opening of Five On A Treasure Island, and then found me eagerly struggling my way through the rest, my first book!

For that reason alone I am always rather defensive of Enid Blyton - so often criticised, but the provider of so many childrens' "First Books".

Anne Fay said...

The first book that belonged to me that I remember trying to read was 'Five On A Treasure Island'. I was about six, and I thought it was very difficult. I read and reread that book and many of Enid Blyton's other books until my early teenage years. Famous Five, Secret Seven, Faraway Tree, Malory Towers, Wishing Chair, Adventure books, Secret books, I loved them all.

John Dougherty said...

"I suspect that ensuring that children have access to inviting libraries where they can be guided towards their very own breakthrough book might be a little more useful and pleasurable than an external decoding test at six."

Absolutely. Should be tattooed backwards on Sarah Teather's forehead.

Penny Dolan said...

This is such an important stage of a child's reading. a time when they need plenty of books all as easily accessible, and often ahandy adult to share the story with at the end of the day.

Though I too am wary about it, the familiarity of a series may be what is needed so that the young reader doesn't have to deal with a whole new concept each time they face a book. Like playing a familiar game over and over. Or maybe already seeing a series on the tv first?

But agree with both yesterday's and today's posts about the low status of these important books. Well said, Keren.

Think that The Owl who Was Afraid of the Dark was the breakthough book about a year ago in our family.

Keren David said...

My daughter enjoyed the Rainbow Fairies for a while and my son gobbled up Beast Quest - but with both series there came a wonderful moment when they said 'I don't want any more of those, they're all the same,' and I realised that more sophisticated critical thinking had kicked in.

Stroppy Author said...

For me the breakthrough moment came earlier with the now-deried Little Black Sambo. I thought it absolutely magical - in a book, tigers could turn into ghee if they ran fast enough! And of course it all made sense because if I watched our cat run very fast it *did* go all blurry, so if it went even faster why shouldn't it turn into liquid? And there were the sound patterns you could find in words (OK, Mumbo Jumbo is not very PC, but I was 5 and it was the 1960s).

I noticed the pattern in the narrative, too, as he lost one item of clothing after another and the tension built up. It was so real - the tigers were bullying him, just like big kids in the playground. This was the real wonder of it: a story could imitate life while being totally different.

You are SO right, Keren - it's a very important stage, and no number of phonics checks will ever inspire a child to read. I agree with John re the tattoo.

Leila said...

Phonics checks? WTF? How did those ever get a child to love reading? Just because you can read doesn't mean you want to.
I don't remember a breakthrough book, but I do remember loving 'My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes' by Lynley Dodd. Wonderful in every way. And 'The Blue Balloon' by Mick Inkpen.

Ellen Renner said...

Anne, I loved LBS too and for exactly the reasons you put forth: the highly visual magic of tigers turning into melted butter, the patterns in the narrative, and also, I fear, greed. I loved pancakes!

But I think my breakthrough book was my very first 'own' book given to me as a pre-schooler: Dr Seuss' The Fox in Socks. I learned to read it through repetition and started gobbling up books from that moment. I have it still.

Pauline Fisk said...

Funnily enough, breaking through to reading meant breaking through to writing too. Winnie the Pooh did it for me. Not only could I read these wonderful, funny stories, but when I'd read the last of them I started making up my own and I've been writing ever since.