Read this and I’ll buy you some chocolate…

Recently a mother brought her child to one of my storytelling sessions.  When her boy got up and volunteered she jeered at him.  When he was embarrassed and didn’t want to do it anymore she said “I’ll buy you some sweets if you do it”.  I stopped her saying that volunteering should always be the individual’s choice but what she had done (other than mortifying him and putting everybody else off helping me) was to say to her child and the rest of the audience “sweets are better than this”.  Thanks.

This particular lady thought she was doing the right thing; she had attended the library to listen to a story – big tick.  Unfortunately though, it doesn’t follow that a love of books, reading and stories will rub off by simply turning up in a library.  When I deliver stories it’s very common for children to look around at how other people are receiving the story and judge their own response accordingly; are Mum and Dad watching? are Mum and Dad enjoying this?  You can’t hand a book to a child and say “read this and I’ll buy you some chocolate” because a carrot and stick approach is simply not appropriate when trying to nurture a child’s interest.  Libraries are undoubtedly the right place to encourage a love of reading and books but more often than not a child’s library experiences need to be positively reinforced by an adult.

It’s the same in schools.  We live in an age when many children see reading, writing and arithmetic as purely for tests and exams so, thankfully for me, schools are always looking for ways of inspiring their children.  A good author visit or storytelling day should have quite obvious and immediate short term benefits but authors and storytellers may not have the long term solutions a school is searching for.  The long term legacy of such experiences depend upon them being properly valued at the time and adequately followed up by teachers in the classroom.

I am keen for schools and the public to get the most out of what I do.  I try to encourage discussion of my visits and I try to build opportunities for further writing exercises into my session structures.  In public sessions I try to work with libraries to ensure stories are available to be borrowed and also encourage adults to engage with me on social media so that they are aware of my events in the future.  More often than not my work is about enjoyment and entertainment but by trying to inspire the adult as well as the child I hope that for some children a story becomes more than 30 minutes of fun.  A well-executed storytelling can become a doorway to a whole world of stories or a topic or who knows, a career.

We all have bad habits we can easily shake off.  It can be as simple as singing the songs at toddler rhyme time rather than using the time to check text messages or being seen to borrow and read books or just putting the book marking off and engaging with the class’s storytelling visit.  If we don’t do these things what messages are being shared?  Your learning is somebody else’s problem.  Reading is something you have to do.  I’m too busy for stories.  If we want to encourage and inspire our children we all have to raise our game.