Greg Bottrill, author of “Can I Go Play Now?”, explores the power of sharing a love of books with very young children, sparking a life-long passion for reading and knowledge.
Whenever I order a curry, whether it be sit-down or takeaway, I always, always order the same five things: poppadoms, pickle tray, prawn jalfrezi, pilau rice and a garlic naan.
I have ordered this combination since 1996 and I have never deviated. To do so would just feel wrong somehow, and I guess it’s also a way of avoiding the potential regret of trying something new and not liking it. It also makes it really easy when ordering, as I never forget what I want!
This clinging to the known and returning to the comfort of the familiar can also be something we bring to our choice of books that we share with children. I know in my own teaching, I drew to a canon of books, often those that I recalled enjoying from my own childhood, the pages from which, as I sat and book-snuggled with my mum on the sofa, a wonderful myriad of story and imagination tumbled.
I love the quirkiness of every Pat Hutchins tale, the brilliantly bonkers ‘The Giant Jam Sandwich’ and even the very early phonics books I grew up ‘The Village With Three Corners’. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember them, and I have acquired several of the titles over the years as they still hold real magic for me.
The word ‘love’ is vital when we share texts with children. I like to think that books open up a door to a magical world and that if we are truly to give reading as a gift to children – which, as an aside, all learning should be – then we need to show them just how much we live in and breathe the ether of that very world.
Not only does this require us to bring the book to life through our voice and our eyes, that I hope twinkle with the joy we are sharing; we also need to show young children through how we treat the book itself, making the physical pages a part of the whole experience.
This might involve incorporating the book as a prop as we read, reacting to the tale as it unfolds, building tension, wondering – not woodenly holding the book up and just reading it. I often wonder whether children are that bothered by the whole “Now the title of the book is blah, blah and the author is called blah, blah and the illustrator is blah, blah” – it’s like watching a film where the credits come up at the start of it and dull the audience even before the action begins! We want to show children that books are exciting, that to live without them would be a life not worth living.
And this begins before we’ve even turned a page. It’s called the art of book hugging, literally hugging the book you want to share with children as they come into your school or setting in the morning. We are showing them that a book is something very special, that we love them whilst at the same time, we pique their curiosity, that Great Big Magical Impulse that runs through the DNA of childhood. It can be a simple yet powerful moment to pull children’s attention to the world of story from the second they step across our threshold. It’s also incredibly comforting – try it! I wonder what book you might choose to hug tight?
All of this however comes with a slight addendum. It is equally as important to discover new books to fall in love with and, critically, to make sure that the texts we choose are ones that children see themselves and others in. As a middle aged, middle class, White man, my choice of books can be very narrow no matter how much love I may feel for them. It’s good to fall in love over and over again, not just for Black History Month or Chinese New Year, but across a whole year – there’s a world of books waiting to be hugged after all…
Happy book hugging!!