The brilliant Danny Katz writes about the difficulties of getting kids to read in this exclusive Kids Month piece
You can’t force a non-reading kid to read. You can’t occy-strap a book to their face and hold their eyelids open with alligator clips – they don’t like it, they say it hurts, kids today are so soft. If a non-reading kid ever attempts to read a book, they see it as work, not pleasure – give a preppie a copy of Miffy At The Seaside and they’ll give up after two pages, go online and illegally download the TV show on Pirate Bay (*SPOILER ALERT* Miffy said she wasn’t tired after her big day at the seaside, but she lied, because soon her eyes were shut tight! A shocking climactic twist that no one saw coming.)
At the age of seven years old, our daughter was a hardline, fully-committed non-reader. We tried everything to get her reading: we filled her bedroom with tons of books, all piled up in great teetering stacks, hoping that something there might interest her, or a huge stack might accidentally collapse on her face and she might read something unintentionally. But sadly, neither of those things happened.
We read to her every night to get her into a book-reading habit, but that didn’t work either: my reading voice is drab and monotonous and I can’t do accents. I was reading the first Harry Potter book, and she just looked confused; she’d seen the movie twice, she knew Harry was supposed to be English, so why did he sound like a Mexican who’d spent a bit of time in Tel Aviv?
One day I sat down with her and said “Why don’t you like books?” and she said “Because they’re all boring” – she said she didn’t like girly books, she didn’t like boysy books, she didn’t like fantasy books, she didn’t like books about post-apocalyptic vampires named Whitney who win the netball grand final, which is shame because we’d bought the whole set.
I said “So what kind of book do you want to read then?” and she said “A funny book about a kid like me, who has friends like I do, who goes go to a school like mine”. I said “Ahhh, so you want a book about yourself” and she said “Yeah. Buy that”. Unfortunately there was nothing in the bookstores about my daughter and her friends and her school, not even in the independents, which was surprising, they’re usually quite well stocked. Alright then, I thought, I’m going to have to write this book myself. So I did. It was called Little Lunch. My wife Mitch Vane drew the pictures. It got published, my daughter read it, she liked it, she asked for another. We wrote another, it became a whole series, and now it’s a TV show.
My daughter is about to turn 22. She’s a smart, unique and fascinating person who reads voraciously. We just wrote another Little Lunch book for her: it’s called The Off-Limits Fence.
We hope she likes it.
Danny Katz is a columnist for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. He writes the Modern Guru column in the Good Weekend magazine. He is also the author of the books Spit the Dummy, Dork Geek Jew and the Little Lunch series for kids.