I was tagged on Facebook this week in a Chris Riddell illustration which quotes Michael Morpurgo. Michael in particular is an advocate for children’s literacy and very outspoken. I was tagged by a friend – Chris Riddell hasn’t started drawing me! Don’t get excited!! If you’ve not yet seen it, here it is…
I can firmly place the start of Story Storks in my primary school years. That’s certainly where my love of reading started thanks mostly to my parents but also to a couple of inspirational teachers. Those stand out moments have shaped me today.
I was reading the basics before I went to school which was so long ago that I went into Year 1. This wasn’t normal of course and put me at an advantage ahead of the other kids. I very quickly established myself as ‘the best reader’ and my stubborn competitive streak made sure I stayed there.
I think I was a top infant, and as a July baby that would have put me at 6, when my teacher turned to me and said “Sarah, why don’t you go to the library and choose yourself a book to read.”
On my own!
We weren’t allowed out of the classroom on our own, let alone to look at the library books on our own. Our library consisted of a shelf of books in a corridor. Yet still it was one of my favourite places.
I can still remember now the emotions I went through. At first it was shock. NO! I CAN’T BREAK THE RULES NO MATTER WHAT YOU SAY! But with a bit of coaxing, and a permission slip, I was allowed to go out and get my own book, on my own, for the very first time.
Stepping out of the classroom I felt a buzz of excitement. It’s something that I wanted to share and yet so important that I was alone when I did it. I got to look at every single book. Take my time. Indulge my foundling passion. I lined up the books I liked on top of the shelf and then narrowed it down until I’d chosen the one I wanted.
I chose the Exeter Blitz by David Rees, a huge book for a 6 year old. I absolutely loved it. It was this book that cemented my love of reading. Thank Dave!
Later on, in Junior school I had a teacher called Mr Midgley. We would sit on the carpet for him to read to us every day. That, and PE, were the parts of the day I longed for, especially now that the others were starting to catch up with me on the reading front (I was having to develop dramatic style to stay ahead and Christopher had overtaken me at maths – grrr).
I remember so vividly the day Mr Midgley sat us down to read Roald Dahl’s revolting rhymes. The phrase “she whipped a pistol from her knickers” was met with absolute uproar. We were rolling on the carpet. Mr Midgley was laughing. He enjoyed it so much he said it again!
He only read the poem once (Red Riding Hood for those who aren’t familiar) but that line stuck with me forever, so much so that when I gave birth to my first baby I went out and bought her a copy of Revolting Rhymes. I shared that poem with her, and she was laughing at that line too by the age of 12 weeks, no doubt down to the dramatic delivery I had started to develop in primary school.
Story Storks was inspired by Roald Dahl’s revolting rhymes and normally I go on to say ‘by my daughters reaction to it’ but perhaps in reality it was inspired by my own all those years ago. The seed was planted in primary school for a passion that would become a career.
Literacy is more than putting together sounds to form words, or words to form sentences. It is about transporting the reader to a place of wonder. That’s not something that teachers can teach. That’s something that they ‘inspire’ within their charges. It’s not something that can be measured, or tracked or tested. How can you measure a love of anything, let alone a love of reading?
For me, it turns out that literary inspiration was the most important thing Mr Midgley gave me. Other kids in my class will have grown up to do other jobs requiring other skills, but we all need reading and kids who read for pleasure are proven to perform better at exam time. Whole grades better.
So I say yes, let there be half an hour of storytime at the end of school in primary schools up and down the country. But we can’t just make this time magically appear. If we want this, then we need to say it’s OK for teachers to not do something else instead. So I also say let’s move storytime up the list of priorities and hopefully something meaningless and boring will fall off the bottom. Then everyone is a winner.
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SARAH CANTRILL is a woman on a mission to inspire every young child to become a reader for pleasure. She is the Artistic Director & Founder of STORY STORKS, a social enterprise that delivers interactive story workshops to early years children and their grown ups, that help kids to fall in love with stories and develop their early language skills meaning that they have an easier time of learning to read when the time is right. She is also passionate about helping and supporting parents through the early years and lobbying for a better understanding of them and the issues they present. Occasionally she also speaks up for the kids too!