I've become a convert to reading schemes. I almost feel ashamed to write these words, having been an assiduous exponent of the value of "real books", the importance of reading together, the joys of sharing interesting print experiences with children. I still hold fast to those views and even now all of us (ages 45, 13, 10 and 5) are eagerly trotting through C S Lewis's The Silver Chair, second time around. But recently Jeremy, the youngest, has started bringing home a reading scheme book every day from school.
Neither of his brothers really liked these books. They said, with justification, that the stories were boring, that the pictures were old-fashioned, that the way in which the stories were told was too "samey" and that each level tended to repeat the storyline till you were sick of it. All true. The school uses and has used for a long time, an old version of the Ginn scheme, bought when money was more abundant and now piled high in the cupboards. Not that the school relies solely on this reading scheme- far from it.
Every week each child brings home a book to share with his or her parents, a library book. This they choose themselves and there is a record book for teacher and parent to exchange views ("He really liked this", "Don't you think this is a bit old for him?", "My heart sank when I saw this again" - you probably know the sort of thing). Every day the teacher reads them a story, to avid attention. So they are not short of print narratives. But the reading scheme, I now see, has such a special purpose.
As I watch and listen to my five-year-old plough his way through A Day at the Zoo, Hello Parrot and so on, all stories which on a narrative level are far below his natural comprehension level, I see the huge delight he takes in his emerging competence. It is just the same feeling I got when I learned to reverese out of our drive: there's no intrinsic worth in manoeuvring the car but it gives you such a buzz to be able to do it yourself. You feel liberated, confident, the master of your destiny. And so Jeremy, his chubby finger moving sternly over the widely spaced lines of print triumphantly greets familiar words and bravely struggles with less familiar ones. When has has finished his book for the day he turns to me, his face shining.
"You see, Mummy, I can read!" Never mind if his horrible older brothers start muttering about "baby books" or huffing about "when I was your age", Jeremy knows that achievement is within his grasp. So thank you, Messrs Ginn, the boy done good.