Reading, books and libraries

ECA caught up with the Executive Director of Public Libraries and Engagement, from the State Library of Queensland, Louise Denoon, who shares insights into how children can develop a love for reading and the role adults can play in that. Louise says ‘creating opportunities for child led engagement is a great way to spark creativity and gather children’s perspectives’. And scroll down for an ECA webcast with the Children’s Laureate, Ursula Dubosarsky, in conversation with Dr Kate Highfield, exploring reading, books and libraries.

Early Childhood Australia (ECA): There are so many theories about teaching reading to young children and it’s obviously a core skill for the whole of life. Yet a ‘love of reading’ or a ‘love of books’ is a different thing; it’s a feeling, a response, an attitude as much as a skill. It’s something quite special. Why does it matter that children come to love books rather than simply learn to read? What factors create this ‘love’ and how do you and your team go about trying to foster it?

Louise Denoon (LD), Executive Director, Public Libraries and Engagement, State Library of Queensland: For children to love reading it must be fun and enjoyable. A love of reading is often formed when parents or carers love to read, and they share this passion with their child by making the experience a joy.

Sharing a story together should be a special time where adults snuggle up and laugh with their little one. These loving interactions not only help develop a love of reading but support multiple areas of development for a child. The quote by Emilie Buchwald ‘children are made readers on the laps of their parents’ is so true, and absolutely underpins the philosophy of the First 5 Forever program that positions parents and carers as their child’s first and most important teacher.

The First 5 Forever family literacy program is coordinated by State Library of Queensland and delivered through the network of over 320 Queensland public libraries and Indigenous Knowledge Centres. First 5 Forever emphasises engagement, with key messaging given to parents as well as easy practical tips, ideas and suggestions on what literacy looks like in the home environment or when families are out and about.

Of course, not all adults love to read, but parents want what’s best for their child. So, an important way First 5 Forever supports parents and carers is through providing consistent messaging about why reading is fundamental for their child’s learning and reiterating that they themselves have a valued role in creating a love of reading for their child.

We share this consistent message across Queensland through libraries that the way caregivers share stories and rhymes with the children in their lives is the way children respond to best and this creates the best possible foundation for reading and learning. This inclusive call to action ensures that no matter what level of literacy caregivers have, there is an opportunity to share learning experiences by retelling stories, talking about the pictures together, and sharing books in any language.

Please visit the First 5 Forever website there are plenty of resources for educators and parents to use and enjoy. First 5 Forever is an initiative of the Queensland Government coordinated by the State Library of Queensland.

ECA: The Children’s Laureate Ursula Dubosarky, in her interview with ECA, talks about the different ways that children respond when they enter a library space that they know has been created for them compared to a library created for adults. Can you tell us what goes into creating library spaces and events specifically for children? Do you consult with children? What do you look for that tells you ‘it’s working’?

LD: A priority for the State Library of Queensland is promoting the concept that libraries are play based spaces. We have moved past the idea of libraries being a silent sombre place.  Our children’s space ‘The Corner’ has been created around engaging children and supporting best practice in children’s development. We have also extended this philosophy into all State Library spaces with our areas and exhibitions incorporating inclusion for families and considerations for children into their design. This includes physical aspects such as having items low enough for children to see them, or signage designed to engage children plus our most valuable asset—staff that value families and create a welcoming environment through interactions that let children and families know that this is their space and that they belong in libraries.

Listening to children’s voices in all public libraries that create spaces for families, plays a vital role in developing and delivering successful programs. Creating opportunities for child led engagement is a great way to spark creativity and gather children’s perspectives. This can involve consulting with children and families or observing how children interact within a space. If its continuously being done through a program, the library staff adjust how they interact or deliver the program based on the ages and stages of the children present, their interests and their personality. All programs will have certain elements that are the same, but no two programs will be identical because they are constantly evolving depending on the families present. A way of gauging the success of a space or program by observing the level of engagement of the children themselves. When we see children freely expressing themselves, dancing, singing, and playing we know it’s working.

ECA: Ursula Dubosarsky’s interview explores the inner rules that we sometimes bring, as adults, to reading with young children. She encourages us to be led by the child and break rules where needed. Where do these rules come from and do you think we need to change our mindset about books and use them differently with different children or children of different ages?

LD: Reading should be fun, exciting and comforting. Sometimes if you stick to the rules, especially with young children, it becomes a trial for both the child and adult. Most people have developed these preconceived rules from their own personal school experiences, where they may have been forced to read a book cover to cover or were told the genre they enjoyed reading was not considered to be a real book.

Sticking to these rules will only end up squashing a child’s love of reading.

Libraries have a key role to play in debunking these rules with parents, teachers and carers so that children are consistently being supported and encouraged to experience stories, books and text in a way that is meaningful to them. If we let the child lead, listen and adapt how or what books are shared, we have a greater chance of fostering children who ask questions, are inspired and develop a lifelong love of reading.  For example, as part of the First 5 Forever program we provide ‘permission’ for parents to not have to finish a book if the child is obviously not interested, and this still creates a stir in some parenting circles. For parents of active toddlers, we can reassure parents that their child may be moving about the room but they could still be taking in everything you’re saying and participating in the story in an entirely age appropriate way that feels good to them, even if it might not feel to the parent that they’re achieving anything.

ECA: Librarians and teacher-librarians in early learning settings or schools are a specialised profession. What does a teacher-librarian offer to a young child that is unique among the experiences and learning opportunities offered elsewhere e.g. in a learning setting with educators or within their family?

LD: Librarians and teacher librarians have a passion for reading, this passion is contagious and often inspires even the most reluctant reader.

Often a librarian or teacher librarian will be the first person outside of family that a child can talk to about books and can encourage a child to read simply for pleasures sake rather than curriculum outcomes. A great teacher librarian will know their students interests and reading level and is able to recommend books that will excite and motivate individual students.

ECA: Many families at the moment have been unexpectedly at home together for long periods, with multiple ages trying to work, school, play, relax, exercise, find quiet time in close quarters. Do you think books and reading have a special place during this time? Many libraries are closed during the pandemic but remain active. What are they doing behind the scenes—how are libraries supporting young children and educators during the pandemic? Are there particular strategies you’re proud of that your team has put in place?

LD: Reading together as a family is great for bonding and has the bonus of having a calming effect. During these strange and unusual times, a break from the crazy within a safe, supportive and loving environment has never been more important. Many families are using reading together as a way of reassuring their children and creating their own personal oasis. Old favourites books are being passed down from one generation to the next and memories are being created. First 5 Forever also reassures caregivers that there are many ways to share the same book. If books are limited through isolation—you can talk about the pictures, the words, the colours, the sounds, the endpapers … and children learn language through repetition, so multiple reads of the same title are actually brain building.

Even though libraries have been closed, staff are busy working behind closed doors, and information and resources are being created and shared. Many libraries have been responsive to the needs of families and are providing online programs like Storytime, Rhyme Time and Baby Play. These sessions are an important way of helping families stay connected to their local library as well as encouraging sharing of stories with children. The messaging shared with parents in every First 5 Forever session is a reassurance that the efforts they make in their own homes to connect with their young children is the best possible thing for their child’s development and to keep sharing language and stories in everyday life.  State Library of Queensland, and many public libraries also offer online resources so that families can always access quality materials and a wide range of e-books and ideas through our online platforms.

One of the things that has been inspiring to see is how adaptive and flexible library staff have been, everyone has been focused on how they can continue to support our communities with innovative online programs and initiatives. The library community is very generous and through this time all libraries and councils have shared information, ideas and resources. This level of support and sense of community has been outstanding.

Watch the ECA webcast below: Explore the power of reading with the Children’s Laureate, Ursula Dubosarsky.


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4 thoughts on “Reading, books and libraries”

    Kaili says:

    Fantastic interview!

    Thanks Kaili. Glad you enjoyed it.

    Margaret Robson Kett says:

    Thanks for this affirming interview at a time when adults are being increasingly told they “should” be reading with children in certain ways. Enjoy! is the essence.

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