Do you have a favorite story? Mine is The Magic Pudding, an Australian tale of … you guessed it … a magic pudding that no matter how much someone eats of him, he simply grows back again. I’m sure there are many of us who would love a Magic Cake on hand. I’m not sure why this is my favorite story, maybe there are deeper reasons related to coming back no matter what happens, but maybe it’s much simpler – I liked the story. Why this analysis of my childhood reading habits? Well, partly, because my latest podcast Using Storytelling To Build Self Worth with Diane King was all about storytelling, and its importance in all our lives. Diane has also written a children’s book Ruby Red which is about a young girl with additional needs and how she navigates through her life.
My daughter had a favorite story called, How To Catch A Star. From early on, though, we tried to use stories to help her understand her world better. There was a series of books we used with titles like, How Hattie Hated Kindness and A Pea Called Mildred. These books were designed to encourage children to think about why they felt a certain way. So, for example, Hattie thought she was rubbish and the book was all about making her understand that she was as important as everyone else. A pretty important message I think for young children with additional needs who have started to wonder why they are different.
I didn’t realize it then, but we were trying to teach our daughter in a way Diane described as caught learning, not taught learning. The message was delivered in a way which didn’t seem about the teaching. I don’t think my daughter would have understood if I simply sat her down and told her you’re great (which she obviously is). But these books helped her see that she wasn’t the only one with these types of feelings. These books aren’t just for children with additional needs, but we found them a way to reach her and show her feelings like this are normal.
Don’t get me wrong I love these books, but I do wonder now if they were too heavy on the message and maybe missed something in the story and the rhyme and alliteration. After working with speech and language Diane became aware of the important link between rhyme and alliteration, and its role in helping children communicate. This led her to write her book Ruby Redas a rhyming adventure. Looking back at both my daughter’s favorite books, I realize now how much she preferred books with rhyme. Another of her favorites series was Hairy McClary, especially any stories where Schnitzel von Krumm featured.
I’m not going to lecture anyone on the importance of reading for our children, particularly if a child struggles to read, but it is an important part of how we discover our world. And, as Diane talked about, it’s a place to express emotions, to be scared, to laugh, feel empathy and feel all the kinds of things my daughter found quite difficult when younger, and to be honest still struggles with today. All this immersive interaction with the story allows our children to experience different emotions in a safe and controlled environment.
But I think we need more books like Ruby Red and Josh Has Dyspraxia, whose author Christine Draper I talked to in Episode 41 of the podcast. These books serve two purposes: firstly, to help our children understand they are not alone; secondly, more importantly, to educate other children in a non-lecturing way what it means to have additional needs. Both Diane and Christine have written fantastic books. Stories change the world, so maybe these types of stories can help change perceptions.
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