Chris Routh on the joy of being read to

Published on: 26 September 2016 Author: Chris Routh

Librarian Chris Routh talks about the joy of being read to and why it's important - regardless of age.

Chris Routh

One of my favourite memories from the last few months is of sitting on the edge of a gigantic bed with a group of year 7 and 8 students who were snuggled up in borrowed dressing gowns, listening to me reading a picture book story of their choice. Magic!

Although they loved every part of their trip to The Story Museum in Oxford, at that moment in time they were all totally absorbed in one of the simple pleasures associated with reading. This is, of course, being read to. I wonder if you can remember the last time that you read aloud or were read to.

No one is too old to enjoy being read to, but sometimes parents stop reading to their child simply because he or she has become a confident, independent reader. I was therefore delighted when a parent of one of our year 9 students told me that she still reads to her son.

It is something they enjoy doing together and it gives them something to talk about - and she usually chooses to read something she really enjoys but that her son might not choose for himself. Poet Brian Moses has written about the importance of choosing a book to read aloud:

'You need a book that you love, a book you are passionate about, or your enthusiasm won't show', because children need to see 'the enthusiasm you have for reading. Tell them about your favourite books because after all, it is the fire they glimpse in you that stokes the fire in them.'

As a secondary school librarian, I still have plenty of opportunities to read aloud - but librarians are supposed to love books and reading! Being read to is possibly a less common experience in the secondary classroom (discuss!) One of the most popular events during our annual Book Week is an assembly featuring a panel of teachers, invited from a variety of departments, reading from and talking about the books that are important to them.

These teachers are giving the students glimpses of the fire in them. Their books have ranged from Catch 22 to The Jungle Book; Swimming to Antarctica to Green Eggs and Ham; and Pride and Prejudice to When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. Over the years, I've learnt that it's always really important to have books recommended by staff immediately available to borrow or buy because, without exception, there be a demand.

Chris Routh with students

Given the right circumstances and without the pressure of having to join in, many students also enjoy reading aloud to each other. A recent example of this was when a sixth form book group decided to take turns reading from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time in preparation for a trip to see the stage adaptation.

Reading play scripts together has also proved to be a very popular activity. This year, a group of year 10 and 11s suggested we read William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily a New Hope by Ian Doescher. Based very closely on the first Star Wars film, the script has been rewritten in iambic pentameter and includes many references to Shakespeare's plays.

It is clever and witty, and also quite challenging to read. However, four of the students proved to be brilliant at reciting Shakespearian verse and revelled in taking multiple parts, using film-inspired voices. These weekly laughter-filled sessions were an absolute joy and privilege to be part of, and provided more than a 'glimpse' of the fire in them!

I have seen enough evidence that reading aloud can mediate, motivate, entertain and empower to strongly believe that it is a crucial part of promoting reading for pleasure regardless of age; and even better - the only real cost involved is your time!