In the first of two guest posts about innovative reading groups for children, Kingston University MA Publishing graduate Hattie Gordon shares her experience of Young City Reads.
Mention the phrase ‘book group’ and most people assume you are talking about a reading circle for adults, something that conjures up an image of people cosily sitting around a table of an evening, wine glasses in hand, and the actual discussion of the book coming after food and gossip. But the concept of shared reading is increasingly being applied to children in creative ways, and this may be a significant antidote to the documented drop in reading levels amongst some children, and an associated, but perhaps more damaging, lack of interest and pleasure in books (as reported by the National Literacy Trust and referenced in one of our own Masterclasses).
Brighton & Hove City Reads has been running for eight years. A book is chosen for the whole city to read, discuss, debate, and engage with at a series of special events and workshops. It is basically one giant book group exploring one book together. Previous titles have included Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Ali Smith’s Hotel World, and Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. Participants increasingly commented that it would be fantastic to create a similar community buzz for children. When Michael Rosen was appointed Guest Director for this year’s Brighton Festival, Sarah Hutchings, who runs City Reads, felt it was a perfectly serendipitous moment to launch Young City Reads. Sarah chose Erich Kästner’s Emil and the Detectives because it is Michael’s favourite children’s book. First published in 1929 and since translated into 60 languages, Emil is a timeless classic and has the advantage that it is enjoyed by both children and adults.
The idea of Young City Reads is to get as many children (and adults) reading Emil between World Book Day (7th March 2013) and the end of Brighton Festival (24th May 2013). Over 40 local primary schools have signed up to take part and each will be reading Emil in class. The schools receive a weekly bulletin that includes quiz questions and suggested activities based on the book. A fictional ‘Detective Agency’ has even been set up to see if pupils have what it takes to be a young amateur sleuth! Alongside school participation, many children and families are also reading the book at home. Sarah has noticed that much of the Twitter activity has been from parents who are embracing this collective read.
This is a brilliant initiative and one that children appear to have enthusiastically jumped on. The combination of organised activity in response to a book along with reading en masse is potent. It enlivens reading for those who may be slipping away from books; for enthusiastic readers it provides community fun, discussion and the sharing of a story. Such moves towards making reading a shared pursuit draw on what literacy research has consistently found: children being read to and/or talking about what they are reading transforms their perception of and relationship with books. As Aidan Chambers wrote in Tell Me, ‘we don’t know what we think about a book until we’ve talked about it’. While solitary reading is heaven for many children, for others it can be forced on them before a positive attachment with books has been made.
Hattie Gordon is the Projects and Schools Liaison Manager for Reading Force. She completed the Kingston University MA Publishing in 2010, developing an award-winning dissertation, ‘Why do boys read less than girls? A study of male reading behaviour’.
Read more about shared reading, and how it can help families in stressful situations, in PART TWO of this post.