If you read this blog, it’s likely that you’re interested in supporting children in developing a life-long love of books and reading. We often talk about the importance of reading lots with our children, listening to them read, helping them find books they adore, but when do we stop to remind ourselves of what it actually feels like to be learning to read?
I certainly hadn’t thought about it much until working on last week’s I Can Read celebration when a combination of factors led me to consider what M is actually experiencing as she’s learning to read. It occurred to me that if I could put me feet in her shoes I might be better placed to support her on her journey towards becoming a fluent, literature-loving reader.
Of course I turned to M and asked her what she felt about learning to read. Her response wasn’t quite what I had expected: “What I really like about reading is it fills your head with imagination“. A little bit of my hearted melted when I heard that.
It was great to hear her focussing on the end, very positive result of being able to read, but it didn’t get me any nearer to understanding what she feels when she’s in literacy and phonics classes at school, or when she’s reading a new book to me or herself.
Asking adults interested in this, the answers I got when I asked “What does it feel like to be learning to read?” included “Frustrating, especially if comprehension skills are better than decoding skills”, “Powerful, learning to read is like reading someone’s mind”, “Like going to China and trying to order a meal at McDonalds – strange markings in a familiar setting!”, “Frustration was key here, along with despair and anger!”, “exciting, enchanting, enlightening.”, “exciting and frustrating, empowering, a glimpse of freedom and an adventure”. (My thanks to @AliB68, @salmonskyview, @LRKnost, @liveotherwise, @nurturestore, @bridgetheos and @EmmaD77 for sharing their experiences and views.)
As it happened last weekend I read a book in a foreign language for the first time in many, many years (excluding Dutch, which whilst technically a foreign language for me doesn’t feel like it because we’re a bilingual home). Sophie, a fantastic follower of Playing by the book, who has an amazing eye for super picture books, had sent me a new book to read with my girls. A new book in French. I love languages, but I last studied French 21 years ago (gulp!) so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I sat down to read it.
Well, the experience was exciting, thrilling, exhausting (having to concentrate so hard!) and empowering (woo hoo! I read a whole book!). Perhaps the experience of reading this book wasn’t far off what it like for M when she reads a new book? Somewhere between the pages and the dictionary on my lap and the heart fluttering in my chest, I think I really did step into M’s shoes. In some senses I was once again 5 or 6, suddenly witnessing the world opening up a little bit through black words on a white page.
And what of the book itself? Well, it was so brilliant, that even though it’s not yet available in English I want to tell you about the book Sophie sent me. Please don’t be put off by the fact it’s not in English. It’s a truly wonderful book, one you’ll want to know about. And, if you’re a publisher, please go get the English language rights!!…
Tibois fait son musée (Block makes a Museum, or Kubbe lager museum – it’s original Norwegian title), a very funny, beautiful, extremely well observed book by Åshild Kanstad Johnsen made us laugh out loud with delight and recognition.
Tibois loves to collect things. Every Tuesday Tibois goes for a long walk through the forest and collects what M (à la Pippi Longstocking) calls “turn-up stuffing”, in other words, anything that is lying on the ground which catches your eye. Tibois collects sticks, leaves, lids, lost clothes, pens, broken jewellery, stones. You name it, he collects it.
He takes his treasures home, delights in looking up what he’s found in his books, groups them into useful categories (“feathers”, “twigs, sticks and branches”, “nice things that bend”), labels them and puts them on shelves and in boxes. Tibois house if full of treasure. But one day, he runs out of space. He calls his beloved granny for some advice, and recollecting a lovely day they shared at a museum, Tibois sets about creating his own museum.
People come from far and wide to marvel at Tibois’ treasures, which he has taken great care to display beautifully. He loves having a museum, but it is also rather tiring and after a few days he misses his normal activities. But what to do with all the objects he’s accrued?
To the relief of parents everywhere there is a very clever and satisfying denouement to this story, one which will please treasure collectors and treasure tidy-uppers alike. It allows us all to revel in finding and collecting objects which might not look so beautiful and valuable to anyone else but us, at the same time as freeing us and not condemning us to live a life full of clutter, with bedrooms, shelves and any spare surfaces covered with objets trouvés.
The illustrations,which reminded me a little of work by David Lucas, are appropriately enough packed with details that children will adore exploring and pointing out. The predominantly green and brown palette used in the illustrations is calming and restrained.
So, if you’ve ever come back from the beach with a bucket full of driftwood, shells and polished glass, or from the park with a pushchair weighed down with sticks, stones and other people’s discarded rubbish this is the book for you. And even more so, the book for your kids Beautiful, fun and with real substance at its heart, Tibois fait son musée makes us question whether it is necessary to have lots of things to be happy; an ever more important theme in today’s world and a super one to explore with children.
Can you guess what we got up to as soon as I read this book to the girls? Yes, of course, we made our own museum…
Here is the Grand Opening, complete with cutting of ribbons:
Here are the museum curators showing us their collection:
Here are some of the cabinets full of curiosities:
And here’s the museum catalogue, available in the museum shop!
You can rightly infer from the catalogue that M and J were pretty proud of their museum
If you’re inspired to make your own family museum I heartily recommend investing in a few strung tags and some old picture frames – I picked ours up in a charity shop for 20p each (they each had a horrible picture still in them, but I just removed the picture at home, and now, when the museum gets put away, I’ll have three frames I can use for the kids’ artwork).
Whilst making our museum we listened to:
If you want to listen to some songs for grownups that mention museums, @NickPoole1 pointed me (thanks to @MarDixon) to this round up of songs.
Other activities which could work well alongside reading Tibois fait son musée include:
Finally, returning to the theme I opened this post with, if you’re interested in how children learn to read, in understanding how (some) children feel as they approach a new book with their new skills, why don’t you try to read a new picture book in a foreign language? I can heartily recommend the process and experience And here are some great resources to help you out: