Do you remember ages ago I blogged about hearing children’s writer Frank Cottrell Boyce talk about the Reader Organisation? What do you mean, no? Well read this first here and then come back to this blog. I’ll make a cup of tea while I wait.
Frank Cottrell Boyce (author of Millions, Cosmic and other outstanding books)
Have you read the blog? Grand; let’s crack on then.
As you can tell I was impressed by what Frank said so when I saw that the Lowdham Book Festival has invited two speakers along – Sophie Povey and Manon de Moor – from The Reader Organisation, I bought a ticket immediately. On Friday I joined a select band of other festival-goers with good taste in the Methodist Church.
Sophie led the first part of the talk. Fiery-haired and full of beans, she enthused everyone about the work the Liverpool-based charity does. Not for the first time in my life, I wanted to move to Liverpool and be part of that culture where there’s a poet in every street, a comedian in every cafe and a songwriter in every school (fact).
Sophie Povey (image ©hopereaders
As a former teacher, I already knew how reading aloud to a class can have a mesmerising effect upon them. A good story, well read, could grip their attention like nothing else in the world. What I didn’t realise was how life-changing reading aloud can be for adults, too; especially adults who are distressed, suffering from mental health problems or dementia. ‘Being read to brings remarkable health and happiness benefits.It stimulates thought and memory, and encourages the sharing of ideas and feelings, hopes and fears. It enriches our lives and minds.’
(blurb on the back of A Little, Aloud for children – see below)
To demonstrate what happens at group meetings, we rearranged all the chairs into a circle and then Manon read the poem ‘Leisure’ by William Henry Davies. She read it through twice, in a quiet, soporific voice that lulled and gently drew us in. We were then invited to comment. Had the poem triggered anything? Did one line stand out more than another? Everyone came up with a response; each response was different and revealed something about that person.
What I like about The Reader Organisation is (and the clue’s in the title, I know) that its emphasis is purely on reading. It’s not like in a book group where the book is read outside the group and then people report back on it. Nor is the reading seen as an exercise that leads to writing. It’s simply about listening to, engaging with, and sharing the book. Pure and simple. The books chosen are demanding but not intended to be off-puttingly difficult. They can be anything from Shakespeare to things like The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-time (Mark Haddon). Every session ends with a poem.
At the end of the session I bought a copy of one of The Reader Organisation’s publications A Little, Aloud (children’s edition).
I can’t wait to read it. It’s an anthology of extracts that go down particularly well with children. There’s an adult’s version in the series, too.
I firmly believe in the central premise behind the organisation – that reading aloud can change lives. I’m going to talk about it to the staff at Ysgol Esgob Morgan where I’m Patron of Reading and see if we can introduce something there. I’m also going to read out loud more on school visits. Children’s writers need to show by example. We need to persuade the government to allow teachers to read aloud more to their classes. ‘Can you imagine what an Ofsted inspector would say if they saw me just reading to a class?’ one dismayed teacher recently told me. We need to put an end to that kind of misplaced fear right now. Teachers should be reading to classes on a daily basis, not to tick any boxes but just for the sheer joy of it. And kids – you can play your part, too. Take a book to your grandparents next time you visit and read to them; I guarantee they’ll love it. Or read to your younger brothers and sisters. You know it makes sense. Parents – I don’t even have to tell you what to do, do I? Of course not.
Result = they all lived happily ever after (and not just in Liverpool)