A rare kind of magic
Published on: 2 Awst 2012 Author: Anna Flemming
Anna Fleming, a Young Persons Project worker from The Reader Organisation, tells us about why reading aloud with children is so special.
Reading aloud with a young person creates a rare kind of magic. When words leave the page some hang uncertainly, hauntingly in the air. Others fill the room with exciting, curious, or beautiful sounds.
As I read a story or a poem with a young person there is often laughter, sometimes there are tears, and always there are questions and weird and wonderful conversations. This is where the magic happens – that moment when the words and the stories begin to exist inside a mind.
I read with one girl who is 10. She has a lot of worries and finds school very difficult. In the hour we spend reading together she is intensely absorbed in the stories. She loves to anticipate what might happen next, and enthusiastically explores all kinds of possibilities. She is also remarkably sensitive and intuitive, picking up on the subtlest depictions of a person to understand what is happening. This shared reading time gives her the opportunity to listen and to be heard and to build her own imaginative world. Her favourite poem is 'Instructions' by Neil Gaiman. She loves to imagine her own journey, which is similar and different to the journey. She talks about who she would meet along the way, where she would go, what she would find – the chat and ideas could go on for hours.
A boy I read with, who is also 10, responds differently to our shared reading sessions. He finds it difficult to concentrate as his mind is busy with many confusing thoughts, feelings and memories. The stories we read come alive for him after we've finished them. His face lights up when he describes a book or a poem we've read together. He cannot say exactly what each book has meant to him, yet his smile and excitement suggests there is a lot of pleasure associated with that memory. One week I read him the poem 'The Ssssnake Hotel'- and every week after when I offer him a poem he asks for it. As I read it he joins in with the repeated line 'at the ssssssssnake hotel', making some excellent snake hisses!
When you read aloud with a young person you develop an intimate understanding of them – you share their hopes, fears and sense of humour. You encounter some incredible experiences together, from the sofa. You respond to the most exciting or upsetting or beautiful moments, together. This togetherness is precious, and rare. It makes the young person feel valued; it gives them the confidence to express themselves; it draws them into the vast world of imagination, where anything is possible; and it creates a different sense of time. One 12-year-old boy would often be shocked when our hour of reading ended and say: 'I wish I could rewind time so it could be 2 o'clock again and we could carry on reading.'
Anna Fleming is a Young Persons Project Worker at The Reader Organisation (TRO) – the leading national charity for reading and wellbeing. In her role at TRO Anna reads one-to-one with ten young people living in looked-after care every week. Both of the poems mentioned in this blog are featured in The Reader Organisation's new anthology of poetry and prose for young readers, A Little, Aloud for Children.
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