How can we encourage children to read?
Children are liars.
Many say they have read all the Harry Potter books but I know that this is complete rubbish. What they have done is seen all the films and then told everyone they’ve read the books. Many merely own the books, lug them around in their schoolbags as a trophy book and even convince themselves they have read them.
The books are way too demanding for some children yet they like to tell us they’ve read them.
Of course many have read them and we instinctively know who they are but there are a big chunk of reading liars who like to boast they’ve ploughed through 475 pages when in reality they’ve gone a few pages and thrown in the towel.
Here’s some interesting stats on the Harry Potter books:
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: 76,944 words.
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: 85,141 words.
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: 107,253 words.
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: 190,637 words.
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: 257,045 words.
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: 168,923 words.
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: 198,227 words.
All seven Harry Potter books contain 1,084,170 words spread over 6,095 pages. If children have read all 7 then they have read over 1 million words and that is to be applauded.
Now some children will devour every page and want more but then there are plenty of children who will look at a book, judge it by its thickness and bail out.
Children’s books are just too big. They don’t encourage reading, they actually depress it.
There are lots of books that are shorter than the HP books and we do have choices but even these books have too many words.
I think children’s publishers have missed a trick and failed to recognise that there are eager readers out there who just want a short read but don’t want palming off with a book that is ‘babyish’.
The huge popularity of Chris Evans’ short story-writing competition for kids, 500 Words, tells us that short is sweet. It is popular because it is manageable and ‘doable’. But even 500 words is considered long for some readers and writers. There are some competitions that ask for stories of 100 words.
I’m reading a book at the moment called Sleep is a Beautiful Colour which is the National Flash Fiction Day anthology. It is jam-packed with short and very readable stories that got me thinking – why don’t we have shelves and shelves of flash fiction titles for children?
Flash fiction is a real art because writing a short story is challenging. There are lots of different types too:
- the ‘dribble’ or minisaga – 50 words
- the ‘drabble’ or microfiction – 100 words
- sudden fiction – 750 words
- flash fiction – 1000 words
Obviously sandwiched in between these is the Twitterature of 140 and 280 characters.
We need more dribbles and drabbles so that children can engage with reading and become inspired to read more and write more. In fact, a book called ‘Dribbles and Drabbles’ would work very nicely and could be filled with short story collections of succinct masterpieces of 50 and 100 words.
257,045 words is just off the scale for lots of children and adults and so micro-stories are definitely more appealing. The brevity of a story doesn’t make the writing any less worthy although some might turn up their noses.
In combination with reading short stories why not set the challenge of writing them too. In fact, why not ‘do a Hemingway’ and write a hyper-short story in six words. Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a story using only 6 words and he came up with “For sale: baby shoes, never worn,” the “six word story”. What can your children come up with?
But back to Dribbles and Drabbles – these are the inspiration to motivate children into reading. We can build interest, create stamina and promote reading by focusing on short stories with big results.