Books & Teenagers

I recently came across a picture that my eldest daughter drew when she was about 7 (she’s now 17) that I found on an old blog. She drew it unprompted, just because she felt like it and somehow inherently understood at that tender age the importance of sharing books with the young people in our lives. In the words of author Emilie Buchwald, Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.

Seeing this picture after so many years made me feel really nostalgic for the days when I used to read to my kids. I miss it. When they were tiny I would read them poetry in the bath tub; I even kept a few illustrated poetry books in the bathroom for that reason entirely. Then as they got a little older, a Finnish friend of mine told me that her mother read to her until she was sixteen. I remember laughing incredulously to myself. Sixteen? Not possible, or their family must have been an anomaly. I always thought that because of the age difference of my kids, I wouldn’t be able to find books that would hold the attention of all three of them. How wrong I was.

Fast forward many years and I have read them literally dozens of books. Always at the same time, after we’d eaten our evening meal. I read them both classics (such as Watership Down, Pippi Longstocking, The Phantom Tollbooth and Swallows and Amazon) and more modern literature (from authors such as Michael Morpurgo, Katherine Rundell and Jess Butterworth.)

Inevitably, the time came when my kids didn’t want to be read to anymore. Homework called, or clubs, or friends. Or the lure of the phone, that constant distractor. I tried to entice them with a short poem again to appeal to shorter attention spans, just as when they were small but, as my son kept pointing out, We really don’t need to be read to anymore. And of course this was going to happen but even so, somehow I wasn’t quite ready to completely let go of it. So what I did was have a scan of the local library and one day I brought home a children’s biography book of Jane Goodall from the series Little People, Big Dreams. Now these books are definitely not geared towards teenagers (my kids are 13, 15 and 17), but what I did was sit at the breakfast table and read it while I was eating. I then left it hanging around on the table and didn’t say a word as I watched one of them followed by the next pick it up and read it, my husband included (ha!). Essentially they are very sweet, bite-sized biographies of key figures (both alive and dead) across different fields such as artists, scientists and activists. And bite-sized is definitely the key and the success here.

Once all of them have read it, I go to the library and switch it for another. And on it goes. Our local library stocks literally dozens of this series and while there isn’t any particular literary merit to them, I like to think they are learning about some interesting people.

The below image is a bona fide photo I took of my children during lockdown while we were on our daily walk down to the allotment. I remember walking ahead of them and I turned back to be met with this sight and managed to get my phone out just in time. Things may be a far cry nowadays from when they used to walk and read, but still, I urge you to keep reading to your children or grandchildren or any young people in your life for as long as they’ll possibly let you. One of my favourite memories from primary school is lying on a rug on Friday afternoons being read to by a teacher. Every now and again, the rug was too comfortable and I drifted in and out of sleep, but mostly I was too gripped by the stories and my imagination was being seeded by the future stories I wanted to write. Even back then, I knew I’d be a writer one day and every story I’ve ever been told has helped that to become a reality.

Thank you for reading this blog post. Compliment it with a reflection on why reading to older kids is not just special, it’s vital & how to encourage reluctant readers.

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