In praise of short words.

One of my aims, as a children’s writer, is to write something that a reluctant reader actually wants to read; and finds easy to read.

We have three heavy duty readers in the house, and one person who finds THE PHOENIX (wonderful weekly comic) a challenge.  She’ll read the Beano, and Tintin, and love the illustrations in Otteline, but presented with a chapter book: “I’m too tired,” “I’ve read that one,” or just a wrinkled up nose.

Reading has been a monumental struggle for her.  She is dyslexic, and has had the benefit of a specialised school where she’s made huge strides, but she’s also reluctant.  She wants us to read to her, so we do.  She likes audio books, so we take them from the library, borrow them from friends. She can listen to Dickens, Bronte, and Shakespeare. She wants access to the stories, but the mechanics of decoding one word after the other and remembering what they were, for long enough to enjoy a paragraph, is still impossibly dreary.

Just occasionally, when I read two chapters from a book, and can’t face reading a third, she’ll read a paragraph to me.  If we’re lucky, no-one’s put in a word like “chandelier” or “inquisitive”, and we might get through a whole page, but more often than not, she hits a line of difficult spellings and uneven punctuation; and falters.

There are books written for children like her, but not only do they seem to be written for boys, she sees them as “school books”. They don’t look as lovely and beguiling as the other books, the difficult books, and people don’t go to festivals to see those writers.  Other girls, in other schools are reading “proper books” and underneath it all, she wants to do that too.

Up until now, and she’s nearly 11, she’s never read a whole story to herself.

So writers all, please remember the reluctant reader.  Don’t put her off on the first page with a casual “unique”, or a throwaway “inaudible”.  Lure her, entice her, treat her to a few sentences of short words, and build up her confidence.  In those first few words, excite her appetite,  and hold her attention long enough for her to fall into the book.

If you can keep her there for half an hour, you might yet get her to experience the glory of reading; and I for one, will be very grateful.


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