Outside Magrudy’s book store during the Eid sales, my eight-year old announced she wanted to read the first Harry Potter. My husband and I looked at each other. As avid readers we were both delighted and very happy to purchase her a copy; part of me was silently punching the air! But at the same time, we were both silently worried. Harry Potter is too long and difficult for her, she’s only just started to read chapter books independently. Her older sister, an avid reader, didn’t read it until she was nearly 10, but Bronwen seemed determined. It was unusual for her to make that kind of declaration. I suspected that some big kids at school had been championing the book and saying how cool it is, but I didn’t ask. When it comes to books we always say yes. We went into the shop and found her a copy.
At story-time that evening we finished our latest read aloud, Judy Blume’s Fudge-a-Mania. I know when Bronwen’s enjoying a book as she squeals and grabs handfuls of the bedcovers and bites the nearest soft toy mercilessly. I suggested tomorrow we could begin Harry Potter and perhaps take turns. On seeing the chunkiness of the book she readily agreed.
As I’m a Librarian it may seem odd that I was almost dissuading my daughter from reading the book herself. But I know her abilities and how much brainpower it would take to decode the longer vocabulary and extended sentences in Harry Potter. I know that children who read for pleasure have to be able to read the words easily – fluently- so their brain is free to understand the story – only then does it become pleasurable. Better to have her giggle reading a ten-minute comic strip like the Beano than have her feel beaten by a book that is too hard for her.
But there’s a selfish side too. I love reading to my children – my husband does too. When my first daughter was born we fought over who would get to read our favourites to her first: Where the Wild Things Are, The Tiger who came to Tea, and Mog the Forgetful Cat. We are not alone! A recent study from the US has discovered huge benefits for both children AND their parents from reading aloud together. They have even given it it’s own acronym: PCBR – parent child book reading.
Whilst it’s been known and studied for years that reading aloud to children is really important for both their language and brain development it’s less well known how great it is for us parents; reducing stress, bonding us closer with our children and making us feel stronger and better as parents. The more we enjoy it the more our children enjoy it and the more we feel great about doing it! And all the time we are advertising reading to our children. Showing them that reading is worthwhile, reading is enjoyable, that reading is important.
I didn’t get to read Harry Potter to Bronwen last night, my husband got there first. I went to read to the eleven-year old instead. Afterwards my husband came and told me Bronwen wants to take Harry Potter with her on the school trip tomorrow. I guess she really is determined to read it. Either that or she just wants to score points with the big kids. But I’m happy either way – at least she knows that reading is cool!