I love it when parents tell me that the first book their child read all on their own was one of mine. Often the book they mention is the Ginger Ninja. They tell me how reluctant the children were to read but, for some reason, this was the one that grabbed their attention.
I remember very well the first book I read on my own. Because my parents were in the army, I went to boarding school when I was five years old. I was the only full boarder in the school. There were one or two weekly boarders and kids who stayed while their parents were away.
On Sunday mornings I would wake on my own in a four bed dormitory in a beautiful Queen Anne mansion, and wait until I was told it was time to get up. The owners of the school were pillars of local society and often out late on Saturday night, so Sunday morning lie-ins could be quite extended!
I was desperate to learn how to read. I knew those book things were filled with wonderful stories. There was nothing I like better as a child, than listening to stories. I realised that if I could work out the trick of reading, I’d be able to have stories on tap.
I remember badgering my class teacher to do extra reading in break times and after-school. The Head Master or his wife would tuck me up in bed at night and do some more reading practice.
I don’t know why, but my father bought me stories from the Blackberry Farm series by Jane Pilgrim. Small Square books that were just right for small hands, they were maybe well marketed at the time and easily available where he went shopping. They had just the right amount of text on each page and lovely pictures of all the animals that I got to know and love. Walter Duck was my particular favourite in his rakish college scarf!
It was a sunny Sunday morning and, as usual, I looked through my little collection of books, telling the stories to myself by looking at the pictures.
I opened Christmas at Blackberry Farm, a warm and cosy tale in which Mr and Mrs Smiles, the perfect middle-class English couple, invite their animals in for a wonderful Christmas meal and presents.
I can remember to this day how a feeling come over me, and how I heard a little voice I’m my head saying, “you can read this – you can do it on your own!”
And I did, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, until I reached the end of the book. I can also still remember the amazing feeling of success. I had done it! I had read a whole book all on my own – I had to do it again there and then! And so I did. I read another Blackberry Farm Book and another.
And that is how children get to be good readers and that’s why series of books, with strong characters and short, sharp, snappy stories, are so important at this stage of reading, when children have just learned the trick of reading all by themselves.
They need piles of books that they can recognise as being similar to the one they just managed to read all on their own. They need characters whom they get to know and love, characters that become friends and help them on their reading journey.
That Christmas my sister and brother hung up a sheet for a curtain in the sitting room and we put on an entertainment for my parents. I read Christmas at Blackberry Farm, all on my own, from beginning to end. I still remember that too, another wonderful staging post in my learning to read adventure.
What was the first book that you read? Which series helped you gain confidence reading on your own? Which characters helped you on your reading journey?