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What makes books powerful?

The power of books is quite something. Before writing this, I thought to myself ‘when you reach for your book, how are you feeling?’

It’s hard to put into words the feeling but I like to describe it as releasing the pressure valve on a pressure cooker. Or the sun coming out from behind a cloud and kissing your face with its warmth. Do you know what I mean? Hopefully you’re still with me.

For me, I feel like reading is a sort of refuge. A place of calm, tranquility and escapism. That’s the power of books.

The Power of Books

When my students are listening to or reading a book, you could often see this exact feeling overcome (some of) them. Their shoulders relax, their arms are rested and their breathing slows. This is what makes reading powerful. 

As well as this (almost) physical response to reading. The power of it lays within the pages themselves. Children’s author, Cressida Cowell, says:

‘books enable children to discover new worlds, meet new people and learn about the past, but they also have the power to transform lives’. 

Whilst our children aren’t always grabbing a copy of Great Expectations off the library shelves (in fact more often than not it’s a David Walliams or Lauren Child). Like people, each book is completely unique and will have a world of brand new characters, locations and stories that your child can discover and contemplate entirely on their own. The wonderful thing about reading is that it is something only you can do. The power of books is that it is unique to each of us.

Unlike many things in this instantaneous world we currently live in, we cannot pay someone to read a book for us. 

Sure, you can read a review or watch the film. But you won’t scratch the surface of the book’s real potential that way. When your child opens the first pages of that book, a new world awaits them in which no one (not even you parents) can change or stop them from exploring.

During the act of reading, your child will subconsciously absorb the formulation of words and structure of sentences. Without any nagging whatsoever! Without reading confidently, children struggle to fully grasp how to structure sentences, develop a complex vocabulary and understand critical thinking. 

the power of books - image shows child with plaited pigtails reading braille book

As an English teacher, I know (painfully well) that there is only so much teaching of the semi-colon or a compound sentence that some children have the tolerance to learn.

These are obviously very specific skills but to put it bluntly without reading often and consistently, we simply won’t retain or learn the kind of vocabulary, information and understanding compared to that of those who do.

The Power of Books and Reading as a Refuge

Moreover, reading is a release, a refuge, a sacred sanctuary that will reliably be there for your child at any time of day and in any place. There are quite literally no limitations on where a book can go or take you. On a daily basis at school I see the very real impact reading has on a child’s mind and behaviour.

When I see a student becoming stressed or anxious I reach for a book and let them dissolve into its magic and mystery. If I notice the group isn’t bonding or has become a bit fractious, I will use a shared story to bring them together (I am yet to teach a child that doesn’t chuckle at Mr Twit eating the wormy spaghetti). Once they see their peers enjoying the same thing they do, the laughter is contagious. Reading is fantastic for a child’s wellbeing, in fact, it’s one of the main benefits of reading for children.

One of the most treasured moments I have as an English teacher is finding my students squirrelled away on a beanbag enjoying a copy of The Gruffalo completely on their own. Their eyes investigating the pictures and fingers exploring the pages. It truly is a wonderful sight and one that I wish all children were able to experience. 

Reading does not cure all evil. It won’t stop wars, win elections or cure cancer. However, it will help us to understand how and why we should try.

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