You have written a wonderful book Raising Readers that outlines how to nurture and encourage reading from birth through to adolescence. What was your motivation/inspiration for writing this?
My motivation for writing the book was the wonderful children’s publisher Kristina Schulz, who gently encouraged me to write the book. I never saw myself as a writer (despite having written a blog for seven years) but looking back now, I can see that my blog helped me to ‘find my writing voice’ and be disciplined as a writer. Once I started writing, everything I’ve ever wanted to say about story in the lives of young people and the importance of school libraries started to take shape. Kristina hoped to distil my teacher librarian knowledge into a book which would be accessible and useful for parents, caregivers and educators and I hope we achieved this – I’m confident we have! I’ve basically started at birth and written down every piece of research, advice and ‘teacher librarian talk’ to take you on a journey from birth to the young adult years of reading.
Was there anything surprising you discovered from writing this book?
One thing that really stands out to me is how the different contributors to the book have added valuable ‘weight’ to my own words. I asked some of my friends and colleagues in the children’s literature world in Australia to write different sections in their area of expertise. I particularly like Pamela Rushby’s section on ‘school readers’ as she outlines how they are written, why they are written and what purpose they serve. If I had have written this section it would have been very brief (!) but somehow Rushby made it utterly fascinating and so many people have commented on how useful this section has been.
We are very proud to have published the audiobook edition of Raising Readers so more people, including time-poor parents can listen to your advice.
Are you a fan of audio yourself? And what value do you think audiobooks bring to children?
I listen to audio books every.single.day. I listen to them with my children on the way to school, I use them with my students at school in library lessons, I recommend them when students are borrowing and whenever I do a talk to parents or educators I talk about the wonder of audiobooks. I’m completely stoked to have an audio edition of my book because I myself listen to so many books I wouldn’t otherwise have to time to read as audiobook editions.
Children’s books in audio form are a great way for children to experience books and stories in an aural mode and are perfect for helping to develop attention and listening skills. Young listeners are carried along through an audiobook by the sound effects, accompanying music, and expressive voices of actors and storytellers and they are being exposed to rich new vocabulary. The expressive voices of the professional narrator provides a fluid and fluent reading of a text which is a great way for young people to develop their own read aloud voice. For reluctant readers or readers who read differently, audiobooks remove barriers to story. Taking away the mechanics of reading texts, particularly for those children for whom this is difficult, enables children visualize the story, the setting and the characters in their head.
What advice would you give to any parent or educator who does not know where to start with choosing books for their children?
Just like when we want to know the best foods to feed our kids we turn to chefs or nutritionists and when we want to know the best way to train for soccer we turn to a coach – with finding books for your child to love and fall deeply into – seek out an expert. Your school teacher librarian, your local public librarian, your local bookseller – they can all help you to find the right book at the right time for your child. They can help you to put together a really great list of books tailored exactly to your child. Ensure also that your child is reading a balanced diet of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, biographies etc and that your child is accessing story in multiple forms from print to digital to audio!
And any particular tip or note you’d like to share for Children’s Book Week?
I am a Book Week tragic from way back! To best enjoy all it has to offer, just embrace the chaos and immerse yourself deeply in story and reading. It’s the week for libraries and library teams to SHINE so if you are part of a library team, create a buzz, stock up on coffee and chocolate and just make it a pure celebration of the wonder of children’s and young adult literature. It’s so important the world of children’s lit has it’s own celebratory week and I love seeing libraries and library staff going all out with their dress ups, competitions and celebrations.
If you are a parent, one of my ‘how to’ guides at the end of the main section of book is about ‘how to create book week costumes’. As a child I have vivid memories of loving planning my Book Week costumes with my mum, but I know some people dread Book Week costumes. If possible, allow plenty of time to prepare a Book Week costume - perhaps do as I say, not as I do in this case! Keep costumes simple and encourage your child to really think about their favourite book character of the last little while and how they could create a costume to reflect the character. If it is not obvious who your book character is from the costume, I always encourage my own children and my students to either carry the book with them or make a book cover lanyard to wear around their neck to identify which book they are from. Such a simple addition to a costume but it really does allow everyone to get into the spirit and, as an added bonus, seeing all those book covers around the schoolyard is perfect advertising for what you should read next.