There are three other children that I have the pleasure of reading with weekly other than my own pair. I volunteer with a charity called Volunteer Reading Help. The charity pairs those with a bit of time on their hands with local schools and the idea is to give quite intense support to three young readers over the course of a year. I spend half an hour twice a week with each of them. If you live in London you may have seen the Evening Standard's 'Get London Reading' campaign which has been raising the charity's profile.
The really great thing about VRH is it's not about sitting down working through graded 'readers' with children and phonic flashcards- it's about inspiring a love of books. Each volunteer gets a lucky dip box of inspiring picture books, non-fiction and novels (plus a lot of games) and the children are encouraged to follow their noses and have a go at what excites them. With 'paired reading' children can access the texts that might otherwise be considered too complicated for them- boosting their self esteem and (hopefully) inspiring them to continue. We can also dig around and find things for them to read that might otherwise not be considered 'school worthy': My own box contains an Arsenal programme, a lot of Top Trumps and a Star Wars comic for instance.
This year I am paired with quite young, Year 1 children. This presents its own challenges- as they are essentially non-readers as yet. It's been tricky finding the right mix of fun and 'progress'; I tend to come down on the side of fun as having the more long term benefits. We spend a lot of time playing silly games: 'I Am Your Robot' is a favourite, where they read very simple CVC action words to me and I perform them to their command. We also spend a fair amount of time colouring things in and drawing pictures for our own stories. Choosing the right books that will grab them though is always interesting and sometimes unexpected. Even though they are five, they don't like to be patronised thank you.
We have been spending a lot of time enjoyably with the Usborne Puzzle Adventure books. They're funny, sometimes quite complicated and involve a lot of concentration, spotting things and working things out; all obviously developing the skills necessary for reading. The children are a lot better than me at the puzzles too which is always gratifying to them. We've been running out of them though, so I was looking in the library for something similar when I came across 'Full Moon Soup' by Alastair Graham. It's been a massive hit.
'Full Moon Soup' takes drawings of the same cross section of the same hotel and layers up the story page by page. There's no written narrative, although a bit of text at the side of each page gives hints of things to look out for. This hotel is Fawlty Towers turned up to eleven. It starts sensibly enough but as the 'story' progresses we start to see ghosts come alive, a cook change into a werewolf, characters come out of portraits, toilets fall through floors, maids become gorillas, aliens crash land into chimneys, mummy's dance with vampires and more and more until the hotel is almost reduced to rubble in the final scene. The layers of detail and the sheer variety of different stories being told means you have to keep flicking forward and back to follow through what you've missed. The two boys I read it with were both completely absorbed and genuinely excited to turn over and follow it.
It's brilliant to have stories you can 'read' yourself when you can't actually read yourself that are a little bit spooky and cool. They could tell it to me for once. And a lot less headache inducing to bespectacled adult eyes than the more ubiquitous 'Wheres Wally'.
'Full Moon Soup' by Alastair Graham, pub. Boxer Books, isbn 978-1-905417-67-4