Anthony Browne the Children's Laureate blogs for World Book Day
It's World Book Day! Up and down the country this morning, legions of mini Harry Potters, Lolas and even Gruffalos will have skipped off to school and nursery to enjoy a day exploring the pleasures of books and reading.
To celebrate we have a special blog for you from Children's Laureate and author Anthony Browne. As Children's Laureate Anthony has been travelling all over the place meeting children, visiting schools and inspiring the readers of tomorrow. We asked him to tell us about his own passion for stories and what we can do to help our children enjoy books and become good readers:
The reading of books with your child is one of the most important and enjoyable ways of spending time together. Not only does it help your child to enjoy books and reading, it is an incredibly enjoyable experience for the parent too. When my children were young I read to them every night – at first picture books by Maurice Sendak, Raymond Briggs, David McKee, Colin McNaughton and Michael Foreman.
To read a picture book is a very different experience from reading just a story. The combination of pictures and words is a close relationship, which echoes the relationship between parent and child. With a picture book the child often looks at the pictures while the adult reads the text. This led to surprising and stimulating shared conversations between me and my children, as text and pictures were explored and pored over.
In the best picture books there is often a mysterious gap between the pictures and the words, a gap that is filled by the child's imagination. Sometimes the illustrations will tell a slightly different story from the words, by suggesting what the character is thinking or feeling. Sometimes they may even contradict the text. The way an illustrator places characters in a scene, uses colour, light and shade, free or controlled paint, can tell us far more of the story than the words. These are all clues to understanding, to be discovered and talked about, together. It is an immensely valuable experience, for both parent and child.
Reading picture books also encouraged my children to draw as well as write their own stories. The illustrations are the first works of art that children see and the images they see at this age stay with them forever.
As my children got older I started to introduce novels into the bedtime reading experience, but for many years there was an overlap between the two. We read books by Anne Fine, Bernard Ashley, the William books by Richmal Crompton, the Alice books by Lewis Carroll - and not only read them – we talked about them. I suppose it was a bit like a reading group, but much more relaxed. Stories would be a topic of conversation in the same way that films, TV programmes and incidents from all our lives were. There was no time when reading picture books ended and reading only novels began. In my opinion it’s a terrible thing to do, to tell children that it’s time now to leave picture books behind – time to only read ‘proper books.’ One of my main themes as Children’s Laureate has been to emphasise the importance of looking. I’ve talked about how we don’t value our ability to really look at things. You can see this in a museum where people spend on average thirty seconds looking at a work of art and considerably more time reading the caption. Listening is also a neglected sense – we all learn to speak but how often are we taught to listen? I believe we’d all be much happier if we really listened to each other. Reading to your children makes listening a very satisfying experience for them. It was always clear to me that if I was getting pleasure from a book then that pleasure would communicate to my children. They would enjoy the stories, enjoy listening and we would all enjoy being together.