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Reading Magic By Mem Fox

reading-magic-by-mem-foxReading Magic by Mem Fox is the perfect gift for the parents of a newborn baby. The act of reading to your baby not only encourages the bonding of parent and baby but also gives your child a head start toward literacy and a life long love of literature. Setting aside time to read, to sit close together, to share a story is a gift for both parent and child. Not just mother but father as well – they also need to be there right from the start. Mem Fox believes that it is also the way to ensure that your child becomes a reader and experiences the magic of reading at an early age. She recommends that you begin with books featuring animals, rhyme and rhythm, and repetition. Make the experience fun – for both parent and child. “The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks between a child, and a book, and the person reading.”

Read aloud to your child each and every day – three books – a favourite, a familiar and something new. Mem Fox has been preaching this message since Reading Magic was first published in 2001, but it is the same message proclaimed by Jim Trelease in The Read Aloud Handbook and Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment – two books that have been around for many years – the books that my generation of parents read in the days before Mem Fox. Bruno Bettelheim “tells us bluntly that children need to know above all else that they’re loved by their parents…and parents can show their love by giving children time, to read aloud together, to talk to each other, to bond.”

There are three secrets to learning to read – understanding print, understanding language, and understanding how the world of words works – that is the magic – that is when reading happens.

There has been a debate for years about the methods of teaching reading – whole language, now called “balanced literacy” and phonics. I think that Mem Fox makes an excellent case for the former while acknowledging the use of the later. Phonics is simply “the ability to translate the print on the page into sound”, it does not mean that the child can understand what they are reading.

Children need to know that words make sense; to learn as much language as possible and in so doing they absorb a huge amount of general knowledge – not through study but through reading. Mem Fox can help you put your child on the “road to reading” by beginning with stories, then words and then letters. Use books that tell a good story and play with language.

As the child begins to read they will know the familiar words and discover the unfamiliar ones - dispense praise freely and assist when necessary.

It is important to help a child with the words they do not know so that they can make rapid progress through the story - remember, and relax as they read - so that they will retain the continuity and understand the content. If there is too much confusion the brain will simply shut down and the child will want only to stop. Reading must be fun and rewarding. We must encourage self-esteem as the new reader makes sense of the words and gains a “joyful attitude” toward reading.

Reading Magic could also be used as a primer for those who wish to write a book for children, because it outlines the content needed in books that work – the beginnings, that most important first line to the last – “we can achieve great things emotionally if the last line is a definite dismissal, a farewell….a happily ever after”.

There is an appendix to this book of suggested books to get you started – some are sure to become favourites – all will start you on the very rewarding road to reading with your child.

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