The Ladder of Literacy
One of the most outspoken advocates for libraries and allowing children to choose their own reading material is author Neil Gaiman. I first learned of Gaiman in high school from a Tori Amos song. I was a huge Tori Amos fan in high school (still am, but admittedly have not kept up with her newer material) and in the song, Tear in Your Hand, Amos says, “If you need me, me and Neil’ll be hanging out with the with the Dream King”. The liner notes (I do not think my kids know what liner notes are) explained the reference being to Neil Gaiman and his Sandman comics. I did not really investigate much beyond that at the time. A few years later I met Folkdaddy and he happened to be a Sandman comics fan and I finally began reading them and was blown away. If you are not a fan of graphic novels, there is plenty to choose from in Neil Gaiman’s published works, from children’s books to mythology. His social media is also a wealth of inspiration and information.
WIth Folkdaddy being a librarian, libraries are very dear to my heart. One of their most vocal and persuasive advocates is Neil Gaiman. In his Reading Agency lecture in 2013 Gaiman discusses fiction reading and how adults can inadvertently push their children away from developing a love of reading. The whole thing is brilliant, but one quote sticks with me and often comes to mind when planning our homeschooling. I am going to do a block quote below and highlight the part that sticks with me every day.
I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of children’s books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. I’ve seen it happen over and over; Enid Blyton was declared a bad author, so was R. L Stine, so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy.
It’s tosh. It’s snobbery and it’s foolishness.
There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn’t hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is the gateway drug to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you.
Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st century equivalents of Victorian “improving” literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.
We need our children to get onto the reading ladder: anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy. -Neil Gaiman
I have been working on getting my 10 year old on the reading ladder since we started homeschooling last year. She is currently on Level 3 of All About Reading and her confidence in her reading skills has really improved. She reads signs, flyers and posters when we are out and about and I can see in her eyes the satisfaction that she is no longer walking through the print rich world unable to understand the words surrounding her. Audiobooks have also been instrumental in allowing her to get the content level that she craves even if her decoding skills are not yet up to the task.
She recently has experienced a boost up the reading ladder. She was not happy that our audiobook listening of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was taking so long to get through the book, because we only listen in the car. My husband got her the ebook for her tablet and enabled the text to speech feature that highlights the text as the computer voice reads. She finished the book that night (she had restarted at the beginning). She had really wanted to watch the movie, but we told her we wanted to wait until she finished the book, so the next day we watched the movie. The next two days she read the Prisoner of Azkaban, then again watched the movie. She has just finished The Goblet of Fire and we will be watching the movie tonight. She is climbing the ladder of reading; she is using assistive technology to do it and that is totally fine. It is amazing. If we had told my daughter that she needed to read something less whimsical, more serious etc. she would not have continued her journey to love reading. She would have shut down. If we would have forced her to trudge through without the assistance of the text to speech, she would have been too frustrated and exhausted to continue. I am so grateful for how far she has come and thrilled that she has not only learned to read, but become a reader.