For the first time seven-year-old Hal has read a whole page with no pictures on it – with a little help from a tape! His father, psychodynamic counsellor Roger Mills, describes what happened.
A couple of nights ago Hal was reading to me from the first of Francesca Simon’s ‘Horrid Henry’ books. These books are significantly more daunting than anything I have ever known Hal read before. Rather than the four or five lines in large print per page and huge pictures of a few months ago, these books, though they have pictures, are predominantly text, with often over 100 words per page. Fewer, smaller pictures also mean less by way of visual cues to help Hal make sense of the words. I was expecting it to be a real struggle for him.
We sat down to read a story called ‘Horrid Henry’s Perfect Day’ and to my amazement Hal sailed through the first page (about 70 words and no pics) with only a very few mistakes and hesitations. Reading, for example, the sentence ‘Dinner was spaghetti and meatballs with peas and carrots’ the only bit that Hal stumbled on briefly was the word ‘peas’ – ‘spaghetti’ apparently offering no difficulties as all.
This was a quantum leap compared to the last time I had done reading with Hal but when I enthused to Jo about the great stride forward she pointed out that he knew the story from a tape. A couple of days later I tried him out on another ‘Horrid Henry’ story, one he has never listened to, and sure enough his progress, though much better than before, was more halting this time and he got frustrated at times when he couldn’t work a word out.
It isn’t, I think, that Hal knows the stories he has heard by heart. He has only listened to them a few times, and if you asked him to recite them he couldn’t. But he has heard them enough to know the stories well (he thinks the ‘Horrid Henry’ books are hilarious) and he knows the rhythm of the sentences. So, for example, reading the sentence I quoted, Hal got the words ‘dinner’ and ‘was’ because he knows them, and sounded out the s p a g of ‘spaghetti’ before it triggered a memory of the sentence and the rest of it (minus the peas) came tumbling out.
Tapes are really helpful in this way. They help wonderfully with word recognition – the next time Hal encounters ‘spaghetti’ on the page he may well recognise it. And, probably even more importantly, they are very helpful in building up the young reader’s confidence. Hal is hugely proud of himself when he manages to read a whole page with no pictures on it. It feels like real reading, that baffling skill the grown-ups have and he hasn’t. And he is clearly thrilled that he can start to read like a grown-up himself now. ‘I love reading, Dad’ he declared to me the other day. Now that is a statement that would have been unimaginable six months ago.
The ‘Horrid Henry’ books by Francesca Simon, illustrated by Tony Ross, are published by Orion.