NOT reading lessons!

Your dear little lad has brought home Him, you know the one, the kid who is smart and funny and who you wish you didn’t like because he seems to be perfect at everything. He has normal and regular parents and a normal and regular vocabulary…so why is he already on Gold books?



And relax…

Seriously, looking at other children’s books is not helping you or your child, it is only putting more pressure on you both and turning what should be an enjoyable activity into homework.

Human beings are hardwired for reading, that’s the good news. Most children have an epiphany moment with their reading somewhere between the ages of five and ten – yes, I said TEN! The epiphany moment is quite remarkable – a child can just suddenly find the right book or the right motivation and they whoosh off with their reading.

So what does the school expect? They probably won’t tell you, but your child will be expected to comfortably reach Level 2 by the time they enter Year Three. This means that they will be assessed through a series of increasingly dull and worthy texts to ensure that they can do things like blend phonemes, understand what a text is about and answer questions about it and recognise the component parts of a book like an index and a glossary. The bare bones of reading are pretty tedious and the chances are your child will be doing this stuff long before they reach transition to Year Three. So relax.

If, however, your child is not quite there, it doesn’t mean that they won’t get there with a little help. A good number of children have issues that may impact on their reading and hold back their epiphany moment, but that doesn’t mean they can’t achieve the basics that will get them a comfortable Level2/3 at infant-primary transition.

  • Read with your child. When they hit a word that they don’t know, remember, they have never met this word before and will need an introduction. Let them try three times, no more than that because it becomes horribly frustrating.
  • Let your child read alone. No help, no input, just let them sit with words in front of their faces. These need to be their choice and it might be something you loathe. Tough!
  • Read to your child. I can’t begin to tell you how important it is for children to be read to. Not just picture books, longer books with chapters that they are not yet ready to read alone. It is a superb way of expanding their vocabulary, gives them something to aim for, and it’s lovely. Do not assume your child is too old for this, you are never too old for a bedtime story.
  • Acknowledge and draw attention to the fact that there are words everywhere. Give them reading with a purpose so that it does not feel as if you are expecting them to carry out a homework-like task. Ask them what the competition is on the cereal packet, put the subtitles on when they are watching their favourite tv show, stick post-it notes on the objects around the house that have new and exciting words to learn (such as television, radiator, refrigerator) Children have incredible powers of assimilation and suck up new words with ease – provided they see and hear them repeatedly.

The most important thing you can do for your child is to enjoy reading yourself and stop making it a chore. Make it a treat and let them soak up any words that they want (I’m a great fan of the literary qualities of the Beano) and stop putting pressure on them to be the same as others. They all learn at different paces and all come to reading in different ways. You probably don’t need to buy any special books or sign up for some expensive plan or club, just look out for reading opportunities everywhere.

Remember – only one in ten adults regularly read a book, and yet we expect 100% of small children to do it. It just might not be their thing, and there may be educational issues that need addressing, but it doesn’t mean they can’t become independent readers who enjoy diving into a book.

Most of all…RELAX!


Originally posted on

Dawn Finch is a YA author and for the last decade she has specialised in reading development in young children. She is vice-chair of the London and South East School Libraries Group and a published author. Her book (Brotherhood of Shades) is a contemporary ghost story and is published by Harper Collins.

You can ask her questions about books and reading at


Comic genius.

As a children’s librarian I was often dismayed when parents asked “they only read comics, how can we stop them?”
WHAT?? Why would you want to? Comics are amazing!

As I kid I loved comics. I mean I really loved them. I read hundreds of books, but those were mainly from the library and so they were not my possessions. They were read, loved, and returned – but I owned comics. Actually, that’s only partially true – I hoarded them, bought them from jumble sales, swapped stuff for them, ran to the sweet shop for the next one. I had piles of them, huge and ever growing mounds of comics of all types. Oh how I looked forward to the Summer Special with its glossy cover and extra thick bumper set of stories.

Comics expanded my descriptive vocabulary massively – who knew I’d need words like scrunge, boink, splurge and spackle?! (Oh, but not in an Urban Dictionary sense, they are hell-bent on ruining some of my favourite comic-based words)
Why anyone would want to stop their child reading comics is beyond me. It’s all about words in context, and comics and all visual story-forms are a superb way to get people reading. They are especially good for people who might not feel that traditional books are for them. They are incredibly useful for anyone trying to learn another language, and I’ve seen teachers of EAL pupils have genuine “by George, he’s got it!” moments whilst using comics.

But enough with the educational reasons, I could prattle (another classic comic word there) for ages about the linguistic and literary importance of the comic construct… but the simple fact is that they are wonderful.

In a comic we are taken by the hand to a visual world that allows our imagination to expand way beyond its usual capabilities. We see things that we might not have conjured up without a bit of visual assistance, and yet there is still room for our own wild imaginations to add to the mix. That’s something that does not happen with a movie or a game, they’ve done all the thinking for us. Comics provide the reader with a jumping off point, and then we can tumble into the story at our own velocity.

I grew up on a steady diet of Buster (I was such a fan I even named my cat after this comic) The Beano and Whizzer and Chips
Then I wanted something a little more grown up and moved on to slavish devotion to the superb writing and illustrating in 2000AD. This lead to the inevitable move to graphic novels and then on to discovery of the genius of people like Neil Gaiman and Frank Miller.
I won’t lie to you – comics are a gateway drug. If you allow your kids to read comics it will lead to something stronger and they will get addicted. It’s just that simple.

I suggest you start them on something superbly written, deeply entertaining and rewarding – and I’m pitching for The Phoenix
If you haven’t heard of it yet, you are missing out. It really is the most wonderful creation by some of the best names in the business. It’s smart, funny and with genuine crossover appeal (if you are not nicking it to read before your kids I’ll eat my hat.) Both the website and the app are brilliant too as they add to the enjoyment between issues.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some Monster Fun ahead of me.


Why your child deserves a school librarian.

Dawn Finch, Vice President CILIP, YA author, school library and literacy consultant.
Follow @dawnafinch

With over a decade of UK school libraries under my belt, and as a YA author, it is easy for me to see why your child needs a school library with a trained professional to run it. I’ve seen first-hand the positive difference this makes not only to your child’s development in literacy, but also to their enjoyment of reading and their linguistic progression. It’s not just about stamping books out, it’s about understanding and nurturing your child’s reading, guiding them so that they can successfully navigate the maze of reading and emerge triumphant and in charge. So much more than Biff and Chip and struggling to the end of a scheme. It’s about becoming a lifelong reader and having something in your life that will change it for the better. That’s what school librarians do, and they do it because it’s their passion and it’s important to them. Your child deserves that person in their life.

You can read the research for yourself – try this survey from Australia that shows the impact school libraries have on children’s literacy.
Or maybe look at what’s being said in the House of Lords.
Or just some common sense from a writer who knows a thing or two about reading. Neil Gaiman’s lecture for the Reading Agency is well worth a watch.

But I know I don’t really need to convince parents that their child deserves a well stocked library run by a qualified librarian. You know it makes a positive difference to their education, and their lives.

Sadly it seems that increasingly the people we need to prove this to are head teachers and SLT members. As parents you need some evidence to prove your case and to get what your children deserve. So, when you are visiting schools to decide which one to commit to for your child’s future – take this leaflet with you. This explains exactly why your child deserves a good school library with a professional librarian. Download it here from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, print it and take it with you when visiting prospective schools. It will help you to see if the library you are being shown is a successful and supportive place, or just a room full of books. The leaflet will give you key points to look out for, and questions to ask. This way you can be sure that your child will be getting the support and materials that they require, and deserve.

This is not about a librarian banging on about her profession, it is about your child’s one shot at a brighter future. Their next school might make or break them, so why not expect the best? It is a simple fact that their literacy levels will be much higher if they have access to a real library. We’re not talking a room with books in – this is about real libraries run by professional people who have the right training for the job. This is a highly skilled profession, and your child deserves the right support from trained people. This is your child’s right to a better future, don’t stand for anything less.

A poster from the incredibly talented Sarah McIntyre says it all – a powerful search engine with a heart.