By Elizabeth O’Hanlon

I’d heard the quote before, but I had never really listened to it. Never let the implications sink in;

“Reading for pleasure is the single most important thing that will make a child successful in life.” UNESCO, 2011

Not how healthy they are or how much their family earns, but how much they enjoy reading.

It made me stop and think about how a child in my class might view reading. Something sent home in a book bag that must be completed. Or part of a lesson with endless questions attached to it. For the children, was reading something to be endured rather than enjoyed?

I knew I was teaching children how to read, but was I teaching them how to love it?

But how can you even do that? How can you tell a child they must love reading – or else!

So, you look to your reading corner and find the plumpest cushions, the twinkliest fairy lights and the jazziest displays. The children are desperate to sit in there – you’ve cracked this reading for pleasure thing, right?

Not quite, you may have brought the horse to water, but now it’s up to the children to drink. And only they can decide if it’s a pleasure.

It’s here the professional educators must step aside for the professional daydreamers; that most unique and important breed of writers, those that write for children.

Because you can have the most elaborate reading corner in the education system, but unless it’s chock full of books to entice, engage and enjoy then no-one’s going to be doing any reading. Least of all for pleasure.

And that’s where RTRP comes in, the two years I have spent on the programme has opened a door to a secret garden of stories.

First, we embarked on a voyage of Freedom with Nathanial Barrett, marvelling at his ingenuity and resilience. Instead of looking to the past in Where the World Turned Wild, we looked to a possible future. One that seemed eerily close in the age of Covid.

*Diana Wynne Jones*’s Charmed Life showed us how much children’s literature has grown up over the years, whilst October, October gave us a main character as infuriating as she was intriguing set in a lyrical world of growing pains, acceptance and forgiveness.

Crater Lake was an out and out adventure that we devoured as eagerly as an alien-zombie-wasp-type-thing, then When Life Gives You Mangoes transported us to a hauntingly vivid world.

The signed copy of Pig Heart Boy was worth the price of admission alone; Malorie Blackman’s masterful prose as direct as it was prophetic. How could you not be gripped?

Which just leaves Town is by the Sea and The Dam both belying the fallacy that picture books are lightweight and fleeting. If anything, both stories were the most affecting, thought-provoking and mature of the texts. Lingering long after the final page has been read.

So here we are with only one book left to reveal. After two years of RTRP, where fellow teachers have discussed, disagreed and digested books and cake, whether via zoom, hybrid or IRL, we’ve enjoyed one of life’s great pleasures, losing ourselves in a good book. Or ten.

So, thank you to the storytellers, now it’s up to us teachers to become storysellers, enticing our pupils with the books that could unlock the door to their own secret gardens of possibilities. After all, reading for pleasure is a serious business; their future depends on it.