I directed my World Book Day 2021 message specifically at reluctant readers.
Why? Because I know how much of a struggle it can be. I know how disheartening it is to constantly be told you must read more when all you see are partially read books piling up beside your bed. I know how easily it can be to feel stupid, or that there is something wrong with you because you don’t enjoy reading, especially when all you’re told is how beneficial it is.
With all the good intentions in the world, you will not get a reluctant reader to read more books just by telling them over and over to read more. If someone was struggling with a maths problem, and they didn’t understand the way you explained it, you’d find a different way to explain, wouldn’t you? There wouldn’t be much point repeating the same explanation over and over, if it’s not going in. It’s the same with reading. You have to find alternatives. And that’s all I’ve done ever since my now fourteen-year-old was expected to read independently.
My daughter’s teacher recently asked her if she would consider giving Manga a rest to read something else. At first, I felt incredulous about this, but I understand it was said with the best intentions. What I also appreciated though, is that her teacher does not understand. She doesn’t know what it has taken to get my daughter to a point where she is reading avidly. She doesn’t know that my daughter has barely completed one book per year in her independent reading, but that this year alone, she has already finished five books. This incredible feat is down to her having found a form of reading material that truly speaks to her, sparks deep thought and understanding and moves her in a way no other written word has ever done. To ask her to stop reading that. Well, it just doesn’t make any sense. And I think if the teacher knew all that, she wouldn’t have asked her at all. At least, I hope not.
That is why I say to all reluctant readers that it isn’t necessarily about finding the right book to read, but about finding the right reading material.
To help my daughter, we tried a Kindle and we tried Audible. Both helped a little, but it was Manga that truly made the difference. For me, this way of reading is too complex. You read from right to left for a start, plus with any form of graphic novel, you have to move about the page between the character speech bubbles and the narration. Reading across the page in the traditional format is more straightforward, I find, but I know that my daughter, who has poor eyesight, has always found tracking words across a page difficult. Even with glasses, her eyes tire easily and reading in the standard way gives her a headache.
I think there is a common misconception with graphic novels that they are not ‘proper’ stories, but I beg to differ.
Discussing some of the Manga stories with my daughter, I understand that they cover complex emotions and can often delve deep into the psyche. To be able to do this in such a format is incredible. I don’t think they’re given the credit they’re due.
We have to stop pigeon-holing children into reading what we think they should be reading and instead, let them explore.
The reading texts used at school (particularly secondary) do not speak to the children of today. The same classics have been in the curriculum since I was at school and whilst I get that it is important to explore classic literature, children are falling out of love with reading because they often cannot relate to the material they’re presented with.
As well as reading Manga books, my daughter also watches Japanese animated films (Anime). These are subtitled in English, so really, these are technically another form of reading.
I was so impressed that during my son’s English lessons recently, the class watched a Japanese Anime film called A Silent Voice. It is about a young man who is ostracized by his classmates after he bullies a deaf girl to the point where she moves away. Years later, he sets off on a path for redemption. This is a truly poignant and powerful film that is a good representation of both Anime and it’s written form, Manga. Perhaps his teacher is a fan and knows the effectiveness of this type of literature and storytelling.
Whether it’s Anime or Manga, my daughter has been exposed to stories in a way that she never has before. From it, she has created poetry and art, inspired by the ideas, and they have prompted her to think beyond the messages. Without these books and films, she would be continuing her struggle of forcing her way through texts that are barely read and then discarded.