Lure them with words, pictures

Anna Stivala

If you read an excerpt from a Roald Dahl book, children are bound to want to find out more.
Putting books, however attractive the cover, in front of children is not enough to entice them to read. Far more effort is required as we are competing with exciting technology. Anna Stivala, librarian at Chiswick House School, shares some of her ideas.

A glass eyeball, a chocolate, a cigar, a monkey soft toy laid out on the desk – these would surely grab the attention of any child.

Leading children into the world of fiction through suggestive objects is one way of enticing the reluctant reader. Anybody familiar with Roald Dahl’s children’s stories will recog-nise these objects, but children who are not will want to find out more.

Read snippets from a number of the books and end with a few minutes of one of the DVDs of the books, perhaps Matilda or The Witches, and you have the ingredients for a good lesson.

Better still, you may have tempted some of your pupils to try to read the books. Make sure you have all the popular Dahl books available because the likelihood is that many will be back in the library to have a look.

Introducing C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia by presenting articles such as the magical yellow and green rings, or a clip from the film of Lucy going into the wardrobe, are suggestive of the fantasy world of Narnia and will encourage children to read more. Some background music from the film and reading short passages from the books also draws their attention.

Start off any scholastic year with an introduction to the library for first time users (usually around year 3, ages seven to eight), with a general description of how the library is set up, colour coded for graded reading and how to look for books by author in the case of fiction. A trolley with new or recommended reading is always useful to help pupils choose, as choosing one book from a large selection may be daunting.

Contrary to popular belief that only books with many words can be of any use to the growing child, picture books as well as comics and graphic novels are of great value. They are all effective at stimulating any child’s (or adult’s!) imagination and are excellent vehicles for getting information across in this age of fast-moving technology, when patience to read has waned considerably.

Anthony Browne is currently Britain’s Children’s Laureate, whose mission is to instil a love of reading in children. He writes books of deceptive simplicity which introduce primary schoolchildren to the strange dream-like scenes by surrealist painters, like Dalí and Magritte, whose works Browne’s pictures reflect.

He says: “Picture books are for everybody at any age, not books to be left behind as we grow older. The best ones leave a tantalising gap between the pictures and the words, a gap that is filled by the reader’s imagination, adding so much to the excitement of reading a book.”

This year, 12 books from the Tree Tops series were used to introduce the graphic novel to nine- and 10-year-olds. During one of my library classes, I showed a powerpoint presentation describing the compon-ents that make up the graphic novel or comic: the panels, the narrative box and the speech bubbles.

A fun page made up of photos of the children around the library with invented speech bubbles expressing enjoyment and general comments was very popular.

Useful as these classes are, the number of children you can reach in any scholastic year is limited. So it is also a great idea to go to the classes for short five to 10 minute fortnightly sessions, as time permits, with a book or series of books, and introduce them briefly to the class.

Try treating Year 5 pupils to a summary of Philip Pullman’s Clockwork, or All Wound Up with a background recording of a grandfather clock ticking, occasionally striking and the eerie sound of blustering wind as the door opens to reveal the evil Dr Kalmenius (all downloadable free of charge from

Children’s tastes, level of reading and maturity necessarily vary considerably, making it difficult to strike the right balance when suggesting books to a whole class. But even if the book or author chosen may be beyond the capabilities of some children, it would still create a familiarity with the author and his works which could prove useful in the future.

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