Thursday 28 September 2017

Celebrating the recent International Hobbit Day! How one book and an amazing teacher really got me hooked on reading as a kid - A ReadItTorial

September 21st is "International Hobbit Day", a celebration of the original publication of J.R.R Tolkien's amazing piece of work.

We narrowly missed the deadline but I didn't want it to pass without saying something about this incredible book, mainly because it was one of the first 'proper' books I read as a kid, and one that definitely played a huge part in making me want to read for pleasure.

Stretching back to junior school, I would have been quite a bit younger than Charlotte is now - in fact without trying to sound too smug or precocious about it, the main reason I ended up reading this book at the tender age of 5 was because I was lucky enough to have an incredible teacher who, these days, would probably have been disciplined for what she did.

Miss Cox was my class teacher and English teacher, and recognised early on that I was struggling with my reading. Not because I had problems reading, I just had problems reading the sort of stuff I was supposed to be reading at that age.

Most kids in the class were beginning their first reading journeys, years before phonics were a thing. I'd been taught to read in a pretty harsh way. Without going into detail I should have actually been put off reading for life at a time when children are beginning to first find their love of stories and tales.

Miss Cox realised why I wouldn't read classroom books, and switched me onto "The Hobbit". I still have no idea whether this was an experiment in 'bringing me down a peg' or whether she actually did so because she somehow knew this book would appeal. The effect on me though was electric. The copy had the cover you see in the article above, and even the cover made me want to find out more.

Separate to the other children going through the Ladybird books and "Peter and Jane / Janet and John" books she encouraged me to read the book in class, and (unheard of at the time) let me take the copy home to read there too.

I did exactly that, in fact I read it through 3 times before I'd let her have it back. It became a subject of discussion and it also became part of projects I was given in class based around reading, to the point where I felt so familiar with Bilbo and Middle Earth I had to voraciously track down and read just about everything else I could get my hands on in the fantasy genre (including, of course, the rest of Tolkien's books). Thank gawd that back then libraries were still commonplace, both in school and outside of school as we had little or no money to buy books with back then.

All in all, Miss Cox started a lifelong love of books and reading that has stayed with me and I now pass on to my daughter, often with the same books that I was won over by all those years ago.

Why "The Hobbit" though? For me it was the fact that Tolkien, for all the various criticisms levelled at his work over the years, could build book worlds like no other. He drew on his own experiences of the local countryside and places he visited to bring an air of believability to fantasy realms. Likewise with his characters, he introduced all of the human strengths and weaknesses into the mix, even with the non-humans. Vanity, covetousness, hope, resilience - so many qualities extend across the amazing folk found in his books that everyone can identify themselves, or people they know, amongst the likes of Bilbo, the dwarves or perhaps even Gandalf himself.

I still love the book and still treat myself to a re-read quite often, and it always seems to manage to feel fresh and vibrant, original and yet still has the ability to delight and surprise me just as it did at the tender age of 5.

I hope one day if you've never read it, you discover it and can get a taste of what I mean from it too. In the meantime, I am always indebted to Miss Cox and many other amazing teachers out there who fully understand, nurture and encourage a love of stories and books in their pupils, far beyond league tables and statistics-driven expectations.