We were very pleased to be contacted recently by Alya Khomenok, a young writer from Belarus who now lives in Minsk with her husband and two daughters. Alya studied law, but fell in love with children's fiction during her time at The School for Young Writers and before long the idea of the crawkulia, Ellis was born. She published her first book Ellis and Mr Christmas last year and is currently working on the sequel.
Here Alya talks about her experiences with encouraging her two children to read, and how it's all about compromise.
"I believe it is important time to bond with my child, and many of my own favorite memories from childhood involve my parents reading to me. I love that it also instills a love for books and reading."
Father, 4-year-old boy
I totally agree! And with exactly these words from the Kids and Family Reading Report by Scholastic I want to start my story.
I have two daughters and they adore books. Nothing special but there’s one detail: my younger daughter is two and a half, my oldest is almost a teenager, she is 12.
I’d rather tell you two absolutely different stories with equal happy ends. it's from these stories that I have learned totally different lessons but have definitely come to a conclusion: READING IS A COMPROMISE.
How did you accustom your children to reading books?
I hear this question from every person whom I tell about our relationship with books.
And my answer is: "As simple as that. We have got used to them".
My story is about how (by doing simple things) we have managed to develop one of the most, in my opinion, useful habits – A HABIT TO READ.
My first daughter was born when I was a student. At that time I had to read a lot of educational literature: legal, economic, psychological. I did not have enough time for either children’s literature or adult books. The only option was children’s songs (amazingly, sometimes it was a kind of light rock music) and... poems! It was my first compromise. Poems switched me over from difficult professional literature lexical constructions and my daughter was luckily fond of them. We quickly passed from simple rhymes on to verses-stories. Rhyme, rhythm, sounding – everything was there, and the issue of my kid's reading was solved for some time.
After that we easily jumped to another level: long stories. At that time I had more free time, so I used to read 5-10 pages with great pleasure. It was my second compromise, voila!
However, when it came to independent reading I was at a loss. I needed a serious but reasonable weapon to fight a child's stubborn laziness to read independently. And I found it. Everything happened, as it often does, by accident. One day my daughter was being naughty and I told her:
"I won't punish you, but you have to read three pages YOURSELF."
You may not believe it but the three pages were not only read but also retold!
I decided to repeat my experiment the next time she behaved badly. The result was the same. After the third case of her misconduct she told me without waiting for the verdict: "I’d rather go and do some reading".
We both laughed and the reading punishments were abandoned. Although her behavior sometimes left much to be desired we had come to the third compromise: no reading punishments in case she reads on her own without any reason.
Today my daughter spends more time reading than I do, she reads in any weather and road conditions, she has an excellent in literature at school and writes short literary notes. It seems to be a good result from a small habit, doesn’t it?
Useful tips from Story 1:
– read what both you and your child like. Atlases, maps, encyclopedias – you can choose any alternative to classical forms such as fairy tales and verses;
– gradually switch over to more complicated formats. Almost any story is adaptable with the help of gestures, intonation, games. Remember that a child can remember a word having heard it twice! Therefore, if you introduce more complex books in your children's library you will give them a chance to enrich their vocabulary from an early age;
– get involved in reading, join the story, turn into a book character. Well, sometimes I have to be a snail, an octopus or even a knife! Your child will definitely be grateful to you for the game and attention, and you’ll undoubtedly derive pleasure from such a transformation;
– write your own book. Nothing can be better than a story invented by mum or dad! I decided to give my children a New Year's gift and composed the fairy tale Ellis and Mr.Christmas. It’s a story about a fantastic creature who can see the future. Believe me, the best author for your children is you, the best book – the one written by family members. The best gift for me was a sparkle in my kids’ eyes when they were holding my book for the first time.
By the time my second daughter was born a habit to read had completely got hold of us so books were brought into her life naturally and inevitably. Ahead of her she had a long way of discovering the world of books. And I was facing daily work on cultivating a habit to read.
Actually, I had no special plan. The only thing I was absolutely sure of was: BOOKS HAD TO BE EVERYWHERE AND HAD TO BE DIVERSE. A child should see many books, touch them, thumb through them, play with them from an early childhood. These simple things are small steps towards a very useful habit.
This time I did not experiment with methods but I focused on the choice of books, the illustrations and the physical space management in a more serious way.
Space. A BOOK IS ALWAYS AT HAND is my main motto. Therefore we have books everywhere! The child can always reach them. In fact, she hasn't got a choice like: a remote control, a dad's or mum's gadget or a book. The first two devices need to be found at first. The book is always at hand.
Illustrations. Little kids percept things visually. They like bright, colorful pictures. Unfortunately, many publishers abuse it by offering books with quite bad art solutions. Be careful in your choice. The illustrations we love the most are those by Olivier Tallec, Sara Lundberg and Evgeny Antonenkov.
Choice. I personally trust the selections made by writers, book bloggers, and publishing houses. For example, Caldecott Medal, John Newbery Medal, Goodreads.com, NoTimeForFlashCards.com and Boolino.com.
Useful tips from Story 2:
– try to find the format that suits your kid. All children are different: some like board books, some – female magazines or cookbooks. Anything is ok to form a habit. My younger daughter, for example, doesn't like books with plastic eyes, but she adores National Geographic or OnAir magazines;
– notice and encourage. Children are very inquisitive. So if they are interested in textbooks of the senior child or your book on information style, try to maintain this interest, tell them about the book, look through it together with your child, examine the cover;
I have an IMPORTANT NOTE regarding the above said: the book must not injure mentality or do any other harm to the kid's health! Therefore, make sure you examine its contents before your child opens it.
– alternate activities connected with books. Try to differentiate reading itself (for example, before going to bed) and educational reading;
– take the book everywhere you go. A familiar book associates with home, a place where everything is quiet and clear. Therefore, the books in your handbag are not only entertainment or training, but also a way to calm the child down.
What is next?
This summer I want to experiment with audiobooks. And I'll try to find my old vinyl player and old records.
I also plan to publish a sequel to the story about Ellis. The text is already written, the illustrations are already drawn. All I have to do is to bring this material together and enjoy the result. Ellis in the Irreparable Forest will appear in e-stores by the end of this spring.
So if you are gentle but persistent in imparting a habit of reading to your children, I am sure, the result will be unexpectedly pleasant as it has been in our family. Make a deal with yourself and your child about what is better for each and both of you. Make compromises and read with pleasure!
By Alya Khomenok
Mum, editor, author of Ellis and Mr.Christmas (The Adventures of Ellis series)
Edited by Olga Khomenok
Mum, editor, tutor
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Alya Khomenok [+]
Alya was an ordinary girl who was working for a serious magazine but one day all her life changed because she met … a crawkulia called Ellis! They made friends and little by little Alya got so attached to Ellis that she decided to write about the amazing life of the crawkulia and her friends.
Comment on post
It's so nice that at least someone's children read REAL books! I read some expert's remarks on those children who read from gadgets: they remember only the plot and sometimes are even unable to name the characters! I think, real books give a pleasure of holding and touching them.