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Readers Of The World: USA

Written by The Reader, 16th December 2011

Hello everybody, it's that time of the fortnight again were we whisk you around the world and continue our reading round-the-world trip, discovering all about literary cultural customs, fascinating reading-related facts and all kinds of assorted and quite amazing stories of all kinds of pursuits in literature from the whole world over. If you missed the last installment click here. Now it's over to one of our Wirral based project workers Lynn Elsdon for the latest installment (hope you enjoy hearing all about the USA):

Alice Ozma of Millville, New Jersey, on the US east coast, found in books a deep and lasting form of communication between herself and her father. When she was nine years old, they set themselves a reading challenge - he would read to her every day for 100 days. This so captured Alice that when they had achieved this, she suggested that they read for 1,000 nights. This grew into a reading relationship that they came to call ‘The Streak’. It lasted nearly nine full years, right up until Alice left home for college.

They both found that ‘The Streak’ helped them to stay connected in the midst of family fracturing: her parent’s divorce and mother’s departure, her father’s management of single parenting, her sister leaving home. Alice remembers one book that they shared about a brother and sister who are abandoned by their mother (Journey by Patricia MacLachlan), that provided a parallel world for father and daughter to navigate together, safely.

This is a lovely example of how sharing reading strengthens families. As Alice puts it in an interview with The Guardian, ‘I can’t imagine what our relationship would have been like without it. It gave us something to talk about, because there isn’t always something to talk about – we’re 40 years apart. We have quotes in our vocabulary that are from books that we use without even thinking. It’s become our shared language’.

At The Reader Organisation, as we read with children and young people every day in groups and one to one in their homes, we are watching our young people find increased confidence, resilience, broader horizons, and better relationships through shared reading. Alice Ozma felt so strongly about the importance of reading for pleasure between children and their carers that she has written a memoir of her experience in The Promise, which she hopes will inspire its readers to begin their own reading ‘Streak’ with the children they care for. She says, ‘It would mean a lot to me if parents would at least give this a try’. Here are some of the reasons we are with Alice on that one:

  • Shared reading transports the child to many different worlds. Some are imaginary, but others are real places that exist outside the child’s perception of life – thus expanding their horizons.
  • Sharing reading introduces the child to difficult experiences – they can learn from the ways that characters in books handle difficult situations and use this as a model for their own behaviour.
  • Issues dealt with in the story can often quell fears; seeing characters in a book having similar experiences to them can often reassure that it is ‘normal’ and ‘ok’; that they are not the only ones.
  • Reading can act as a support; it can help a child to feel better if they are having a bad time. It is relaxing and allows you to slip into a story different from the reality of your own life. In this way, the book can often take the role of a comfort blanket.
  • Reading together can act as a starting point for discussion between child and adult. Sometimes this discussion can be simple, other times it indirectly addresses issues that have been bothering the child in a way that makes them feel safe and able to confide.
  • Shared reading is quality time spent together, a bonding experience that fosters one-to-one communication between adult and child.
  • Reading with a child helps to reassure them that they are important to you and that you enjoy spending time with them.
  • Studies have shown that children whose parents / carers have been involved with their reading development show greater emotional and social development (Allen & Daly, 2002). This includes having a greater resilience to stress, greater life satisfaction, more self-control, greater social adjustment, greater mental health, more supportive relationships, greater social competence, more positive peer relations, more tolerance, more successful marriages, and fewer delinquent behaviours (Desforges & Abouchaar, 2003).

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