Children's laureate pleads for a good yarn

20th April 2007 at 01:00
Reading aloud must not be allowed to die out

TEACHERS SHOULD read aloud regularly to pupils of all ages, including teenagers, says the outgoing children's laureate.

Jacqueline Wilson's comments, which are backed by other bestselling children's authors, follow a TES poll last week examining how popular reading aloud remains in primary classrooms.

Ms Wilson, the author of the Tracy Beaker books, will attend her last event as children's laureate tomorrow. Her successor will be announced in June.

It is expected to be the poet Michael Rosen, though Anthony Browne and Malorie Blackman have also been in the frame.

Ms Wilson said: "We come from an oral tradition and there's something deep in our psyche that responds to telling stories.

"No matter how streetwise the child is, I've never known them not to like the simple delight of an adult telling them a story.

"It's as important at secondary as at primary school.

"I remember vividly Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice being read aloud when I was 13 or 14 years old. It got some of the girls who weren't keen readers into the story in a way, perhaps, they wouldn't have done if left to their own devices."

A poll of 360 primary teachers in England and Wales published by The TES last week found that nine out of 10 continued to read to their class once a week. But one in three had cut back the time they spent on it over the past five years, many citing the pressures of tests and the curriculum.

Education experts have emphasised the need for teachers to read aloud frequently and new guidance on the subject will be published this term by the primary national strategy.

Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, said: "I am very firmly of the opinion that every single teacher within a primary school must at some stage tell a story without a book.

"I used to teach young student teachers, who were very anxious about letting go of books. They would use the book as a barrier between them and the class.

"I would say, 'Try to get a story in your head well enough to just tell it.' They would all try it out and it went very well. Children don't know stories such as Cinderella or Little Red Riding Hood any more."

Michael Morpurgo, author of more than 100 children's books, said that when he was a primary school teacher, he would read aloud for the last 20 to 30 minutes of every day.

"The children were not capable of taking in any more in terms of knowledge and were in the right frame of mind to sit and listen," he said. "It was by far the most effective way to finish the school day."

Ms Wilson said one of her proudest achievements as children's laureate had been helping to produce Great Books to Read Aloud, which has sold 180,000 copies and can be downloaded free.

The new children's laureate has already been selected by a panel chaired by Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, and will be announced on June 11. The award is administered by Booktrust, an independent national charity that encourages people of all ages and cultures to discover and enjoy reading.

* www.greatbookstoreadaloud.co.uk

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