Encouraging a love of language can begin with a book. And the sooner a child is introduced to books, the sooner he or she can enjoy all the benefits of story time and the chance to cultivate a life-long love of reading.
The following comments are from some of Australia's leading children's authors as they share their thoughts on writing, reading and illustrating
Patricia Bernard: (Bladers Rule, Challenge of the Trumpalar, Stegosaur Stone) "You will read and write until the day you die and unless you learn it as a tool, you will not get through life easily and if you learn reading and writing as tools, then you will get through life much easier."
Emily Rodda: (Crumbs, Finders Keepers, Rowan of Rin, Power and Glory, Deltora Quest series) "Reading opens doors into new worlds and into other people's minds and hearts and so therefore reading is not something I would want any child to miss out on. But what we as adults have to remember, is that children have to gain a skill to read, whereas they don't have to gain a skill to watch a movie or television. Therefore what we (as parents and caregivers) need to do is supply our children with books that are so compelling, they can't put them down. Listen to your children's choices - don't make them read books that you loved as a child, or that a librarian has recommended, because if the child is not fascinated with the book it will just make them feel that reading is a chore. If we approach reading in the same way that we approach eating vegetables, reading becomes a worthy thing that they won't necessarily like, but is good for them. That is the last thing children should feel! They should feel that reading is THE most (because I believe it is!) exciting way they can spend their leisure time in the sense that unlike a movie or video game, every book read by every individual is a different book – it's a dialogue between the author and the reader and depending on the child who's reading it, it will be just that little bit different every time. I usually say to children, 'the computer in your brain, the brain that is your computer, is capable of more vivid images than anything anyone else can supply for you…and it's good if you want to learn to lose yourself in a book'. As parents and caregivers we can help fire a child's imagination with a book. For some children this may be non-fiction, for others it may be a joke book, but it doesn't matter (to me) what they read, it matters that they do read because that is how they will develop their reading stamina so that suddenly the task that seemed so onerous is easy, and then they can move on to any book they choose, because they've gained their feet".
Ian Bone: (Pimple-head and Curly, Baby Days, Sleep Rough Tonight, The Song of the Innocent Bystander) "I'm an author of over twenty books – written for very young kids to teenagers. I have three kids and they've all been at various stages of reading – they have either loved books and just gobbled them up or found it difficult to get into books and the reading challenge has been quite a challenge. What I think happens when kids read books is they get a chance to try out really scary or unsafe or even exciting things in a really safe way. It gives them a chance to explore how other people take on big challenges and how they might do it themselves, without having to go and do all these scary things. The other thing I will say about books is that they last a long time – a TV show goes in seconds but a book stays in your head for quite some time."
Duncan Ball: (Selby series, Piggott Place, The Ghost and the Gory Story, My Dog's a Scaredy-cat) "I think the most important thing parents can do for their children is to give them books they really want to read. There are all kinds of experts out there saying, "it would be good if your kid read this", (for this or that reason), for instance, problem solving books, parents going through divorce, or kids with problems of one kind or another etc., and there is great value to those books if they're well written. But as far as reading is concerned, finding high interest subject matter just depends on the child. Maybe your kid likes humour, or a comic book…whatever, give kids books they really want to read. That's how I learned to read!"
Siobhan McHugh: (My Story, Snowy – the Diary of Eva Fischer, The Snowy : The People Behind the Power) "You know how kids love movies (my kids love them), well guess what, books are always better than movies. The book is always better than the movie. Everyone you ask will always tell you, "Did you see the movie?" "Yes, but I read the book and it was far better". So why not start with the book? I love books and I used to love them when I was a kid. I used to read under the covers with a torch at night (very naughty and got me into trouble!) but I literally couldn't put down a book if it was good. I wanted to finish it and I wanted to know the end. And I'm delighted to find that in spite of computer games and soccer and tennis and all the other things my kids do, they both also love books, and I think it's just a question of finding the right book for the right kid. One of my boys, who's eleven, loves fantasy, so he reads Artemis Fowl. The other boy likes information; he can tell you everything you want to know about dinosaurs and Olympics and all kinds of stuff, but he also likes the story tale stuff like Harry Potter. It's wonderful to see them developing imagination and getting lost in a secret world, sometimes being so immersed in a book you have to repeat everything three times. I would hate people to think that reading was about being 'worthy'. It's about an invitation to a secret world and it's far more exciting than inventing ready-made images to someone through TV, movies or computer games - just like radio makes us adults make pictures in our heads, books give you pictures in your head. They also give you access to language that is going to help you in every part of your life. And they also introduce you to all kinds of characters you wouldn't normally meet so you can learn about the world.
I was so thrilled when it turned out that my all-time favourite book of childhood (The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier) was also a favourite of my son's! I couldn't believe it. Even in the Harry Potter age, somehow Serraillier's book had found it's way into the school library and my son was as enthralled as I had been as a child. The Silver Sword is the story of how the Balicki family is torn apart by war from their home in Warsaw, Poland, in 1940, and how they succeed in reuniting themselves in Switzerland at the end of the war. The kids who have been separated from their parents, have to move behind enemy lines and look after each other and get back to their parents. I remember it was so exciting and so sad. I cried and cried. But it must have had a happy ending I think! So read anything you can get your hands on…reading is great fun and it sets you up for life."
Lisa Forrest: (Making the Most of It, Hotshots 20) "I was a reader myself when I was a kid and my parents read to me, so it wasn't as though it was completely foreign which made an enormous difference. My big memories are One fish, Two fish, Red fish, Blue fish and The Best Scout Books. The flatly ridiculous Dr. Seuss stuff always appealed to me. I found that as a parent I didn't read right from the beginning – I read from the time my son could sit up (about 4 months) starting with board books. I thought, unless he can sit on my lap and have a look at the pictures as well, I don't know what he is actually taking in. We read religiously. What I love about reading together is that my son now takes things from books and uses them in his own little way. One great instance was when we were having a rough time driving up to Port Macquarie and it was dark and the usual songs I sang weren't working so he wasn't going to sleep. By chance I started with The Cat in the Hat…The night was dark…the sun did not …and he finished each line! He was only 15 months old! And that got us to Port Macquarie – remembering the books we had read over and over again, with him finishing each line. I was just amazed that he could do that. Kids take everything in right from the beginning, and books are a great way to foster that imagination."
Leigh Hobbs: (Old Tom series, Horrible Harriet) "When it comes to drawing, the main challenge is for kids not to measure themselves against their classmates. Too often kids think that there's a right way to draw, a right way to hold a pencil. I disagree. Illustrating is about drawing in a way that you feel comfortable. And it's irrelevant whether you hold a pencil a certain way. As an art teacher though, what I did do was show kids techniques – in paint, how to make something look 3-D and that's when I would say 'alright, hold your brush like this, do this', because what I was doing was almost tricking them into getting a result. Once they did that, the kids could see that they could actually achieve something and were almost immediately ready to have another go. But it's so important to hook the kids initially so that they feel they're capable of getting a result. Because kids have an intense sense of failure – it's so important to kids to achieve something. I try to free them up. That's why when they draw Old Tom they all get results. I honestly couldn't tell who could draw and who couldn't, because I would suddenly have 60 terrific, funny drawings of Old Tom and then the kids were tricked into the next stage of 'let's make up our own character' and before you know it, each kid has drawn a cylinder and added eyes and a nose etc."
Janine Dawson: (Dog Tales, What's in the River, Dulcie & Dud series, Junkyard Dogs, Talk to Me) "Get kids drawing – pieces of paper, pencils, use junk mail or the back of leaflets…. and pin things up on the fridge. It's important to display kids art – art needs to be acknowledged and admired… and hey, it's special!!"
Marc McBride: (Deltora Book of Monsters, Deltora Quest Journal, Deltora Quest Series) "I got into illustration I guess to express ideas because art is all about showing people ideas. The thing I love about drawing is you just need a pencil (costs about $1) and a piece of paper and it can be a long car journey or wherever you are and you can always get some ideas down. I don't think there's any major rules but I guess that over the years of sitting at an easel, thinking about art, you do learn things along the way. Kids don't need much encouragement to get into drawing – kids love drawing. At a certain age we stop drawing for some reason – I guess we get into sport and maybe we become inhibited and don't think we're good. I actually fully believe that perseverance is much more important than raw talent because I wasn't the best drawer at school but I just keep on drawing. Not everyone agrees, but I think perseverance is important – you just have to keep practising. Just provide material. My grandfather got me into drawing – as a kid he was a great drawer but his parents didn't give him crayons – no one else in my family is particularly interested in art, but they certainly encouraged me and that is what's so important – that parents give kids paper and confidence. Give kids big pieces of paper to let them know that their drawings are precious…I wish I'd kept more of my drawings as a kid as kids are so ambitious with their drawings."