Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Reading is Empathy

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Research shows that far being being a means to escape the social world, reading stories can actually improve your social skills by helping you better understand other human beings. – Keith Oatley (The Psychology of Fiction)

Likewise, Tolkien believed that fantasy “offers not an escape away from reality, but an escape to a heightened reality”. When we read fiction we enter an imagined world, perhaps far from reality, but it’s the characters that we attach to. It’s this emotional connection with characters that provides an understanding of real life interactions. Children begin to develop true empathy for others from four years old and onwards – hearing and reading fiction enables them to walk in another’s shoes. An example for older children is Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor which shows the young reader something of what it was like to be a black child growing up in the 1930s; an incredibly moving story of hope despite hardship.

While reading, we can leave our own consciousness, and pass over into the consciousness of another person, another age, another culture. – Maryanne Wolf

 

Reading and the Brain

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Reading a book leaves us with new neural pathways… Books can open up emotional, imaginative and historical landscapes. Gail Rebuck (Humans Have the Need To Read)

The reading brain is part of highly successful two-way dynamics. Reading can be learned only because of the brain’s plastic design, and when reading takes place, that individual brain is forever changed. Maryanne Wolf

Readers mentally simulate each new situation encountered in a narrative… using brain regions that closely mirror those involved when people perform, imagine, or observe similar real-world activities. Washington University

We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically. – Gregory Berns (Emory University)

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Photo: My grandson, Spencer, 5 months old

Classic Comics 1: Quadratino

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Quadratino (1911), ‘Square Head’, is an Italian comic strip by Antonio Rubino. In each story, Quadratino’s mischief is punished by an ‘accident’ in which his head is squeezed into a new geometric shape – he rolls downstairs and it becomes a circle; a biscuit tin squashes it into a rectangle – and Mother Geometry must ‘redraw’ his square.  Maths has never been such fun! According to 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die Quadratino is “the best conceptual homage to comics” because he’s a living comic strip frame. I love his cat (click image to enlarge).

The Importance Of Living

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

Thoughts from a remarkable book written in 1938: The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang, Chinese philosopher and inventor.

On writers:

Every word has a life and a personality. A writer always has an instinctive interest in words.

Writing is but the expression of one’s own nature or character… style is not a method, a system or even a decoration; it is but the total impression that the reader gets of the quality of the writer’s mind.

A writer in the ‘familiar’ style speaks in an unbuttoned mood. He completely exposes his weaknesses, and is therefore disarming.

A literary masterpiece is like a stretch of nature itself, well-formed in its formlessness…

On readers:

The ancient peoples called books ‘limp volumes’ and ‘soft volumes’; therefore the best style of reading a book is the leisurely style. In this mood, one develops patience for everything.

I regard the discovery of one’s favourite author as the most critical event in one’s intellectual development. Like a man falling in love with his sweetheart at first sight, everything is right…

A good reader turns an author inside out, like a beggar turning his coat inside out in search of fleas… an itch is a great thing.

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Reading And The Brain

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Reading and brain development are linked almost from birth. A baby’s brain grows quickly, tripling in size during the preschool years – it grows when the brain cells make connections with each other. What creates those connections? Reading and singing to a baby; playing with a baby; touch and eye contact. By six years old, a child has the most brain connections he or she will ever have. A child who has been introduced to books as a baby will start school with many of the the skills needed for literacy.

The amount of time the child spends listening to parents and other loved ones read continues to be one of the best predictors of later reading.– Maryanne Wolf

Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf  is a fascinating book that explains how reading and thinking can enhance each other. It’s our brain’s ‘plasticity’ that enables us to learn to read – reading creates new neural pathways and these then become the basis for new thinking. (More reading quotes here).

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 Spencer and his Dad

Struwwelpeter: Helpful Hilarity

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

The Awful Warning carried to the point where Awe topples over into helpless laughter.– Harvey Darton

struwwelpeterStruwwelpeter (Pretty Stories and  Funny Pictures) by Dr Heinrich Hoffman (1845) is a classic of gleefully gruesome cautionary rhymes about naughty children. Hoffman was a psychiatrist who founded an influential Frankfurt asylum and pioneered counselling as an alternative treatment to cold baths (his life was novelized in Clare Dudman’s 98 Reasons for Being). The characters in Struwwelpeter were inspired by his child patients – he’d tell them stories and draw pictures to calm them down. Hoffman was looking for a book for his three year old son and could only find ‘stupid collections of pictures, and moralising stories’, so he created Struwwelpeter. It was one of the first picture books designed purely to please children – before then children’s books were mainly religious or moral lessons with titles such as An Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy Lives and Joyful Deaths of Several Young Children. Read more about ‘shock-headed’ Peter here.

‘The book has long oscillated between being accepted as harmless hilarity and being condemned as excessively horrifying’- Humphrey Carpenter

 

This Is Not The End Of The Book

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

ecocoverThis is not the end of the book is a fascinating conversation between two great bibliophiles, the author  Umberto Eco and film-maker, Jean-Claude Carriere. They discuss the history of the physical book and our digital future. It’s a rambling, wide-ranging conversation (as the best are) and the enthusiasm of these book lovers swept me along. And there’s an especially fine chapter on book censorship.

The Internet has returned us to the alphabet … From now on, everyone has to read… Alterations to the book-as-object have modified neither its function nor its grammar for more than 500 years. The book is like the spoon, scissors, the hammer, the wheel. Once invented, it cannot be improved.’ – Umberto Eco

Why Books Will Survive

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Books are sensory objects. They have a pleasing look, a comforting smell, a grainy feeling, a reassuring weight. The best-loved ones are battered, dog-eared, coffee-stained, signed by the author, and they create beautiful bookshelves. You can lend a book, read it and shove it anywhere, hide treasures in it.  A book carries your memories with it, locked into countless brain networks by all those senses and ideas you had when reading it. Why do you love your books?

“If you take a book with you on a journey,…an odd thing happens: The book begins collecting your memories. And forever after you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it. It will all come into your mind with the very first words: the sights you saw in that place, what it smelled like, the ice cream you ate while you were reading it…yes, books are like flypaper–memories cling to the printed page better than anything else.” ― Cornelia Funke, Inkheart

I still wonder if books will survive a long time because there’s nothing as convenient, nothing else that entertains and informs us in so “human” a manner. A book works at my speed, comfortable and slow, faster when I want it to be, then slow again. Many of my books are old friends. A world of chaos is a high possibility, given the human urge to dominate others, but our need for story, for understanding ourselves through story, our history through story, for entertaining ourselves with story is a constant.– Jack Lasenby (Read the full interview here).

Books will have to earn their keep – and so will bookshops. Books will have to become more desirable: not luxury goods, but well-designed, attractive, making us want to pick them up, buy them, give them as presents, keep them, think about rereading them, and remember in later years that this was the edition in which we first encountered what lay inside… When you read a great book, you don’t escape from life, you plunge deeper into it. Reading and life are not separate but symbiotic. And for this serious task of imaginative discovery and self-discovery, there is and remains one perfect symbol: the printed book.– Julian Barnes

5 Books I Will Never Throw Out

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Twenty-Three Tales by Tolstoy

There is only one time that is important – Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power.

Moominpappa at Sea by Tove Jansson

Moominpappa no idea what to do with himself, because it seemed everything there was to be done had already been done.

A Moment of War by Laurie Lee

  I was in that flush of youth that never doubts self-survival, that idiot belief in luck and a uniquely charmed life, without which illusion few wars would be possible.

Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

When a girl suddenly asks you out of a blue sky if you don’t sometimes feel that the stars are God’s daisy-chain, you begin to think a bit.

The Golden Apples of the Sun by Ray Bradbury

And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

5 ways to inspire children to read

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

1. Have lots of books available.
Access to books is the key to a child’s reading ability – children living in homes with books stay at school 3 years longer than those without. Children need books.

2. Read aloud.

  • start a book together and let the child finish it,
  •  read to a pet,
  •  have a family readathon.

The amount of time the child spends listening to parents and other loved ones read continues to be one of the best predictors of later reading.-Maryanne Wolf

3. Find the best books.
Use guides such as The Reading Bug by Paul Jennings, or reviewers’ best books lists.
Few children can resist books such as

4. Match books to children’s interests.
Whatever they want to read – comic books, science, or ghosts – they probably need it. Librarians love to help you find the right book.

You need a top story. You need a subject that interests a child. And you need something that they can read. – Paul Jennings

5. Interact with books.

  • write to the author,
  •  dress up as characters,
  •  create book artwork,
  •  write a book,
  •  use e-readers and movie versions.

5 Reasons Children Need Books

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

Perhaps it is only in childhood that books have any deep influence on our lives. – Graham Greene

In a world that offers children so many digital delights, why bother with books?

1. Books help children understand the world

Books expose children to new ideas and help to shape their view of the world. Reading is a meeting of minds.

While reading, we can leave our own consciousness, and pass over into the consciousness of another person, another age, another culture – Maryanne Wolf

2. Books help children understand themselves

Children ask (subconsciously) ‘Who am I? Why am I feeling this?’ Stories give a frame of reference by which they can measure their experiences.

3. Books develop children’s imagination

Reading is imagination and imagination is a powerful thing. Imagination also enriches the real world.

Children do not despise real woods because they have read of enchanted woods; the reading makes all woods a little enchanted.–C.S. Lewis

4. Books develop children’s brains

Books boost a child’s intellectual development, especially language. The brain changes when children learn to read: it creates new neural pathways which are the basis for innovative thinking. Reading and thinking enhance each other.

5. Books are enjoyable.

Ultimately a child must want to read. The child who reads for pleasure is forming a wonderful habit – and there’s also pleasure for parents in reading aloud.

Ray Bradbury, The Best

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

The things that you do should be things that you love; and the things that you love should be things you do. – Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury has died. His stories are like mountains in my reading landscape; they kept me reading in my teens and inspire my writing today. I still treasure my Corgi paperback of  The Golden Apples of the Sun – the best 65c I ever spent (in 1970 that was an hour’s raspberry picking). Bradbury’s sci-fi-fantasy stories are scary, surprising, sentimental and moral: a couple face death together (The Last Night of the World); a dinosaur loves a lighthouse (The Fog Horn); an insect changes history (A Sound of Thunder); an astronaut pursues Jesus from planet to planet (The Man); the sun only shines once every 7 years (All Summer in a Day). He wrote widely: short stories (my favourite collection is The Illustrated Man) novels, film (a great script for Moby Dick) and a gripping TV series. Here’s a wonderful talk by Bradbury aged 88 about his love of books and reading; a warm and enlightening tribute by Margaret Atwood; and his last published work, in the New Yorker.

If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling.– Ray Bradbury

Paint The Town REaD

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

The amount of time the child spends listening to parents and other loved ones read continues to be one of the best predictors of later reading. Maryanne Wolf

I’ve discovered a fantastic Australian invention (no, not the petrol-powered lawn-edging tool that killed this morning’s birdsong): Paint the Town REaD is a fantastic literacy-building model that encourages communities to read, talk, sing and rhyme with children from birth. It includes a Reading Day that engages the whole community in reading. It’s a bit like ‘stop, drop, and read’ in schools, but instead it’s shopkeepers, politicians, sports heroes, police, business-people and high school students who stop and read aloud to children all over town. The thing I like about this model is that it’s been a grass-roots initiative, not imposed by bureaucrats. I imagine it would translate well into NZ communities.

Photo: Stories in the local pharmacy.

Pigling Brains

Monday, July 25th, 2011

‘Tell all the Truth but tell it slant. Emily Dickinson

There’s talk of compulsory laptops and iPads for primary schools, but evidence suggests that books should be the priority for children. A good novel is more likely to engage the brain than a screen. Reading is a ‘neuronally and intellectually circuitous act’ (Maryanne Wolf) – or to put it another way, a novel encourages the reader’s brain to be active in the construction of the story. Wolf also argues that more indirect the writing the more enriching it is for the brain.

Clive James comments on this (in Cultural Amnesia) in his essay celebrating the eloquence of Beatrix Potter. He recalls how his own children were fascinated by slant and mysterious phrases such as ‘eight conversation peppermints with appropriate moral sentiments’ and ‘Alexander was volatile’ in The Tale of Pigling Bland (one of the great character names). James concludes that

Children like to hear good things said a thousand times.

Book People

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Alone we are one drop, together we are an ocean Ryunosuke Satoro

Honey bees are a super-organism: each one working for the health of the whole. In the same way many people contribute to a book. At the writer’s end: family, friends, writing group, experts, research subjects. At the publishers: editor, proof-reader, designer, publicist, education coordinator, accountant. In the world: distributors, retailers, reviewers, website designer, media, networkers and most importantly, readers. Readers are the book’s power — an unread book will wither like a hive without a queen.

Photo: Swarm by Sarah Anderson