On World Book Day (March 4th), Glenalmond English teacher, Victoria Dryden, shares some of the ways we fuel pupils' interest in books and some tips for getting teenagers buzzing about books.
With teenagers’ mental health during lockdown being a hot topic and great research being produced about how beneficial reading can be in helping our young people to relax and calm anxieties, one of the most common questions I am being asked at the moment is “how can I get my child to read”?
Well think about recent hit TV shows. The key to their success is simple: they become hits because of the exposure that they are given! Take Bridgerton, for example, during the last week in December 2020 everyone was talking about it, the newspapers were saturated with stories about the stars of the show, Facebook was covered in memes about it and the result is that 83 million people around the world have now watched the show.
So let’s try to create that kind of buzz about books! The first stage is opening up a dialogue about your own books. Let your teens see you reading and know that you enjoy reading; talk to them about the books you’ve enjoyed and lend those books to them if they are old enough to appreciate them. Then you can ask them about what they are reading or read a young adult book along with them as I think you will be surprised at some of the great books available now. When I was young (which was not that long ago!), you had to go straight from reading Jacqueline Wilson to books aimed at adults but there’s been an explosion of books specifically for the 12 - 14 and 15 - 18 markets in recent years and some of them are fantastic with really interesting, gritty themes.
If you need some inspiration to get the conversation started then the Scottish Book Trust website has a plethora of different author talks aimed at different age groups and available to stream for free. Indeed there are so many talks available that it is important to use the filter button at the top to select the right age group and narrow the field to something that feels manageable to choose from. Just search for Scottish Book Trust Authors Live on Demand to find this treasure trove and begin your journey through young adult fiction together!
I’ve seen the buzz I’m talking about happening here at Coll this term. Remote learning has changed our junior library lessons dramatically! Instead of a quiet, whispered one-to-one conversation in the library about what they have read in the last week, those conversations are now public and there’s no getting away from everyone hearing them at full volume in the Google Meet. Yet the result has been that a few of my Second Form have been encouraged to pick up Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games series - in fact one girl is rereading them so that she can join in - and Harry Potter fever is sweeping through my Third Form class 20 years after I first fell in love with those books.
Around a third of the junior pupils I teach have achieved their Bronze or Silver Reading Challenge Award this term and some are close to completing their Gold Award. This makes things competitive and it can be easily recreated at home within families for any age group. I use the Goodreads app to track the books that I have been reading and my innate stubbornness and competitive nature (even to the extent of being competitive with myself!) means that I always read more than I did the previous year. The book ratings and reviews can be very helpful when deciding which book to read next, friends can be added so you can see what they are reading and, for the really geeky amongst us, you can retrieve various stats from within the app including how many pages you have read (I read 31,974 pages last year if you want to try and beat me!). Annual challenges can be set on the app and I think one book per month for the rest of the year would be a really achievable goal for all our pupils.
Getting our teenagers to read doesn’t happen overnight and, at times, it can feel like a struggle but just filling your homes with books and conversations about books is the first step. It isn’t actually about making books fun, it’s just about making books normal.