As a child, I read and read and read – behind the sofa, on the stairs, in my bed, in the garden, in the bath … I was never far away from a book. My mum often delights in saying, ‘You’ve always loved stories. You were reading fluently in both languages before starting school.’ There were books piled precariously on a bookcase in my bedroom, a cupboard at the bottom of the stairs filled with books that would spill out when the door was opened and a visit to the library was a never-missed weekly event.
It’s strange, but I can remember the first time I bought a book with my own birthday money – Eric Hill’s ‘Where’s Spot?’ I must only have been three or four, but I can remember being in the book shop holding my very own book bought with my very own money and feeling so delightfully happy. I treasured that book for years.
As a mum myself, I’ve read to my boys since they were babies. There are books in their bedrooms and there are shelves of books in the office. We browse around the local Waterstones whenever we go to town, we visit the library and books are always given as Christmas presents.
I’ve shared their excitement when they read their first words independently. My eldest raced through books sent home from school, marvelling at the way he could read by himself. My 4 year-old is now following. It’s such a joy to see their delight at making sense of the words on the page.
So why, oh why, for the past couple of years, my eldest (now 8 years old) has lost his love of reading? I battle night after night to get him to read the books sent from school. What on earth did I do wrong? We’ve chatted about it and the simple answer he gives is, ‘I don’t like reading. The books are too long and take forever to read.’
And that is what has happened. He’s learnt to read and can read well. But faced with a lengthy novel, he won’t even get started. He still enjoys listening to me reading stories to him and I’ll often find him on the laptop writing his own stories.
I’ve fretted and puzzled and worried and despaired over his reluctance to read, and have come to the sad conclusion that I haven’t done anything wrong. Since becoming an independent reader, he hasn’t yet found that one book that has grabbed him, pulled him in and left him wanting more.
There are so many amazing middle-grade books out there that I would love for him to read, but he’s just not ready to tackle them right now. For him, he’s not thinking about the story hidden within the pages, he’s simply taking one look at the book and groaning because it’s going to take him ages to read. So the book gets left and he picks up his football magazine (which is great, of course, as he’s still reading).
In terms of fiction, he’s at that inbetween stage – beyond early readers but not ready to tackle a full length novel. He still loves and wants a story that’s full of adventure and thrills, but one that he can manage in a short length of time and doesn’t look over-challenging just in terms of its length.
And that is why, for me, books for young middle-grade (7-9 years) are so important. I have often been told that books for this age-group don’t hold the same kudos as older middle-grade. They are not eligible for many of the prestigious awards out there. They’re just kind of in the middle.
That saddens me. As a Primary School teacher, I’ve seen children, like my own son, lose all interest in reading when they reach this age. And sadly, many of them are boys. I get told daily in my job, ‘Reading’s boring, I hate reading.’ Yet these same pupils are the ones who listen to me reading a story and ask, ‘When can we have the next chapter?’
I strongly believe that young middle-grade stories are the books that can grab the independent reader and develop that love of and excitement for stories so that they transgress naturally to longer length middle-grade. They are the stepping stone to ensuring a child becomes a reader for life.
When I wrote my first book, I didn’t have a target age-group in mind. I wrote the story that was bubbling away in my head, the story that excited me and made me pine to be at the laptop. As it happens, it is a story that will be marketed as young middle-grade. And I am thrilled about this. My publishers, Firefly Press, have developed a series of books for this age-group – their Dragonfly books. They have so many wonderful titles in the series already by amazing authors (Wendy Meddour, Dan Anthony, Shoo Rayner, Malachy Doyle, Eloise Williams, Sarah Todd Taylor and Laura Sheldon). Firefly Press state that ‘Dragonfly books are scary, exciting, funny and fantastical adventures.’ And that’s exactly what they are – perfect for the young independent reader who wants a digestible read.
You can find out more about these fabulous books here – http://www.fireflypress.co.uk/dragonfly
Of course, slotting books into specific age-groups doesn’t and shouldn’t confine them to that particular group. I was thrilled when an early draft of my book was read and I was told that the reader’s 11 year-old daughter loved it. And of course there are children who have a love of reading right from the onset. I love seeing the pupil in class who sits reading at every opportunity and struggles to put the book away when it’s time to work. These are readers who can read a full length middle-grade novel from a young age and that’s fantastic. These readers also pick up slightly shorter books, picture books, any book because they love stories.
But for every one of these readers, there are a couple of reluctant readers. The ones who don’t struggle to read, but simply lose heart at the sight of a long book, yet find ‘simple’ stories ‘boring’. The ones who have turned away from reading and who, unless they’re caught, will lose out on all those amazing books that are there for them. They will lose out on one of life’s greatest pleasures.
I am determined not to let this happen to my son. It is my mission to find him the book that will pull him right in and never release him. I will hunt in bookshops and browse in the library until I find that golden nugget. I feel certain that it will be an ‘early middle-grade’ book that will give him his reading wings so that he can soar towards the amazing middle-grade books that are waiting patiently for him.
Hwyl am y tro x