Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Can't Read, Won't Read

We are currently in a five-day, five-event stint - with another two events next week (i.e. this post will be short). Yesterday (Tuesday), we provided the books for an event with the former Tory MP Lord Hurd (better known - to me anyway - as Douglas Hurd) and in lieu of a proper write-up of a very entertaining evening, I'll point you to the Abingdon Blog.

However, on Monday night we ran a very special event indeed, and we are still reeling somewhat from a) the response in terms of the number of people who attended, and b) the feedback on the night. It may sound trite - or false, or something cooked up by someone firmly focused on a PR angle - but I'll say it anyway. A very experienced bookseller told me once that selling books is a privilege rather than a job, and occasionally something happens that proves this adage in spades. Monday night was a classic example, and I feel very privileged to have been involved.

Can't Read, Won't Read was jointly organised between Larkmead School, ourselves, publisher Barrington Stoke and their distributor Bounce. Barrington Stoke arranged for two of their authors to come along (Nigel Hinton and Joanna Kenrick), as well as a lady well-known in the field of reading, learning and literacy: Patience Thomson. We billed the event as an opportunity for parents and teachers with children who have reading difficulties (call them 'reluctant readers', or 'struggling readers') to pick up hints and tips in terms of understanding the problems they face, and helping them to develop a love of reading.

Given the range of problems that children can face when reading - and as I have been discovering, there can be a huge number of roadblocks to reading fluency - this was a big promise to deliver on. Given we had never tried the format before as well, there were all kinds of risks in terms of expectations.

We had hoped that we might get close to 50 people attending. Thanks to an incredible and generous response from parents and teachers to an email I had sent the week before, we had 93 - and we almost ran out of seats. More seriously, we almost ran out of wine glasses (which, IMHO, constitutes an events 'crisis').

We didn't take many photos on the evening - but here's Nigel speaking on the night to get an idea of the audience, and also the woderful space that is Larkmead's Learning Resource Centre: With the help of some willing volunteers from the English department, we grabbed more seats from nearby classrooms, but the larger-than-expected audence meant that (with the marvellous benefit of hindsight) we perhaps should have thought about a microphone. Apologies to anyone struggling to hear near the back - although each of the speakers seemed to have no problems making themselves heard - or understood.

Each of the speakers picked a particular viewpoint to focus on in terms on tackling the problems of children reading. Patience talked about the ability to cope with language, and the problems that can arise for children who cannot process language in an efficient way, which leads to issues of confidence and ability which can impact on all areas of social interaction. This informed her own beliefs in the way she set up Barrington Stoke.

Nigel focused on the power of stories, and the problems and perceptions of what are great books, how the types of books that get talked about and win awards are books that are only really enjoyed by a small fraction of society - but pass the majority by. He talked about the fact that written literature sits in a small amount of time compared with the eons of spoken stories, ballads - and a future where the book may disappear altogether. 

Joanna gave her own impressions of writing for Barrington Stoke, and the challenge of having to use limited vocabulary to tell compelling stories. Finally, larkmead's librarian Frances Stott focused more on the "Won't Read" side of things, having produced a display of books that seemed to appeal to kids who, ordinarily, were not turned on by 'traditional' books - and who needed a special approach in terms of motivation. Everything from graphic novels to Top Gear books.

This by the way is a very clumsy - and misrepresentative - summary of the entirety of what was discussed, which included readings, tips, personal anecdotes. The evening ended with a look at Barrington Stoke's huge range of books, and a chance to ask questions directly of all the speakers. Many people stayed until quite late, and I hope that everyone had the chance to pick up information, parent packs - but more importantly, by taking time out from the busy lives that we all lead, and get to some of the core elements of the power of stories and the reasons that we do - or don't - read, everyone went away inspired to try some different approaches with overcoming some of the serious hurdles that a lot of children face in trying to read.

1 comment:

  1. It's so important to draw attention to reading, and attract reluctant readers to it,especially boys. In fact, I've recently completed a feature magazine article on this subject that came out in October, "Help for Struggling, Reluctant Readers."

    I grew up as a reluctant reader, in spite of the fact that my father published over 70 books. Now I write action-adventures & mysteries, especially for tween boys, that avid boy readers and girls enjoy just as much.

    My blog, Books for Boys http://booksandboys.blogspot.com is dedicated to drawing attention to the importance of reading. And my new book, Lost Island Smugglers - first in the Sam Cooper Adventure Series - is coming out in June.

    Keep up your good work.

    Max Elliot Anderson
    PS. My first 7 books are going to be republished by Comfort Publishing later in 2010

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