Why won’t my child read?

When my son first came home, four days after his eighth birthday, he wasn’t much of a reader. He hadn’t been encouraged to read much in his first home, and he hadn’t found “the book” in his foster home that would capture his interest. That was my view, anyway; I wanted to try and find something that would give him an “in” to fiction; I just needed to be patient and open to how his mind worked.

Bryan loved non-fiction; he was fascinated by facts, and so I found books of facts for him from the library and charity shops. We pored over them together, and I encouraged him to find facts on particular topics for research. He soon came alive with those moments; he loved working on these little projects, and going through books to pick out little gems that I didn’t know became fun. Books were also lying around our home everywhere; I’m a big reader, and I always left his books lying strategically around.

I remembered this recently talking to a school librarian, who has three of her own children and did a very similar thing from an early age; she left books lying around for them to just see and pick up when they wanted to. I was so glad she said that, because it gave me confidence I had done the right thing.

I then came across a couple of non-fiction books that were more than just lists of facts. Bryan had got into Operation Ouch on the TV, and the brilliant doctors had written a book about the human body. Bryan was entranced, and we went through the entire book together. It was entirely non-fiction, but it was brilliantly written as we went on a “story” through a body. I could see that Bryan was intrigued by this, and for the first time, he was connecting the dots between different chapters in this “story”.

At the same time, we were reading the Harry Potter books together. I wanted a bedtime book to read to Bryan, and I knew that JK Rowling’s stories were popular with kids of all ages – and that includes me. Bryan immediately connected with the first story – Philosopher’s Stone. He didn’t want to read it aloud or by himself – he didn’t feel that confident on those two things yet, and I wasn’t going to push it. Instead, I got Bryan to read little sections of the story – perhaps a page here or a paragraph there; he read the starting and end paragraph of each chapter, which were mostly short, and so he didn’t feel too awkward or embarrassed reading them.

Seven books later, we were rather bereft; the stories had been brilliant, and I had really seen his brain lit up with creativity as we came up with stories and talked about the characters in the books. He’d been connected to the stories, and was so delighted to be part of this world. But when we had to say “goodbye” to the stories, a new series was needed. I didn’t want to read a single, stand-alone book – Bryan is a clever, intelligent young man, and I wanted him to develop relationships with the characters in a series of books – that kind of investment connects us to a story and series of plots more effectively.

Rick Riordan was the answer, thankfully; the Percy Jackson series was a set of books around the Greek gods and their half-human offspring, and then a follow-up series called the Heroes of Olympus – and then a third series called the Trials of Apollo. Bryan and I have absolutely loved this series; it gives us special time together in the evening, and we are really invested in the characters and what is going to happen next. I’ve even got him to the point that he will read half a chapter aloud without feeling at all embarrassed. It’s taken some time to build up to here, but he reads really well and retains what he has read aloud – something he used to struggle with.

Bryan then really surprised me recently. We were in WH Smith just a couple of weeks ago, and he saw the Marcus Rashford book, You Are A Champion. He exclaimed with delight, completely surprising me; he had read a chapter of this book at school with his class, and found it really inspirational. He asked if he could get a copy of the book, and even offered to pay for it with his pocket money. How could I possibly say no? So now we alternate at bedtime; one evening, we read our own books, and the next night, we read a Rick Riordan book. He also reads a new series with his nan and granddad every week – when we were stuck indoors with Covid, he practically read an entire book in the Stitch Head series with them over facetime in the course of those ten days.

Will he be as much of a bookworm as me? No, because he is his own person. He won’t be a natural reader as much as I am, but he has discovered a love of language and reading that will set him up for life. He delights in reading, and it has been an absolute privilege to see him grow.

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