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World Book Day: Imagine a world in which books are for everyone

On World Book Day, Children's Writing Fellow for Northern Ireland Kelly McCaughrain urges parents to re-frame how they think about reading

Children's Writing Fellow for Northern Ireland, Kelly McCaughrain

IF you could wave a magic wand and give your children the kind of advantages in life enjoyed by kids from higher socio-economic classes with highly educated parents, most of us wouldn't hesitate. We'd do a lot more than wave wands. Well, we may not be able to magic up a trust fund, but we can visit the library, which is even better.

You may know that children who enjoy reading perform better in vocab, spelling and maths, but did you know the impact is around four times the impact of having a parent with a post-secondary degree? Greater than the impact of the family's socio-economic background? Or that a child's ability to read has more impact on their future attainment than parental wealth, education and employment? Or that reading for pleasure has greater impact on workplace success than other extracurricular activities for 16 year olds?

We talk a lot about encouraging kids to read, but I think we also need parents to see how vital it is and to re-frame how they think about books.

Imagine a world where:

Books are the reward. I recently read about a school with a book-vending machine. When students did something good they were given tokens for the machine. Books were their reward and they loved it. Parents could do something similar. Instead of being rewarded for reading, treat books and library visits as the reward.

Books are optional. Keen as I am to press books into the hands of children, I'm not sure we should make them compulsory. Roald Dahl knew this. If asked to describe Matilda you'd say, `Matilda loved to read' not `Matilda wasn't allowed to read'. But she wasn't allowed and she had to sneak off to the library. Readers are desperate for her to get her books and then live with her teacher. How Dahl got kids to be excited about these things seems unfathomable, but all he had to do was make reading against the rules.

Books are for everyone. Never tell a child a book is too advanced, too young, too girly or too boyish for them. If a book interests you, that book is for you.

Books are for adults too. I often ask, when parents complain that their kids don't read, "Do you read? Do your kids see you read?" Some families have movie nights or boardgame nights. What about reading nights? Do you ever switch off the TV and have everyone read? You have a very limited window when your kids want to hang out with you and be like you. Use it wisely. Show them that books are not `kids stuff', they're things that adults respect, value and make time for in their own lives.

Books are bonding. Kids love being read to because it means having their parents' undivided attention. I see no reason that reading aloud should stop when a child is old enough to read themselves. Adults love being read aloud to, as audio books and literary events will attest, so why shouldn't teenagers? And what a great way to share in what's going on in their worlds, and an opportunity to introduce discussion on those things.

As Children's Writing Fellow I've had the opportunity to see wonderful initiatives organised by schools, charities, festivals and the media to encourage children to read and I loudly applaud all of it, it does make a difference. But the people running these initiatives have such limited time with the kids. So when I get a chance to promote reading, I try to target the adults. There's such potential for lasting impact there because parents unquestionably have the most influence over their children's habits and attitudes, spend the most time with them, and have the best chance of fostering those skills that can work such magic in later life.

For book recommendations, check out Children's Books Ireland useful collection of reading lists on their website, sorted into categories and for all ages ( Or just take your kids to the library and let them loose.

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