This highly respected teacher librarian, children’s literacy advocate and passionate book lover, is now the author of a must-have book for parents and educators.

You’ve mentioned that you were hesitant to write this book. Why is that?

I have been in the children’s book industry for a really long time. My mum was a teacher librarian and I followed in her footsteps. I’m immensely in awe of the authors and illustrators of Australia, so I’ve never seen myself on their level. I always saw myself as a supporter of what other people were doing, not a writer myself.

What do you want people to take away from Raising Readers?

I would love every educator of early childhood age children and every parent of babies to upper primary to know and share the beauty and power of books. My hope is that each reader will come away with two or three strategies for increasing a love of reading in their own children or the children they educate.

Your book really focuses on nurturing a child’s love of reading—do you think that can be done through digital platforms?

Digital platforms are going to have to have a place because I don’t think that we can escape them.

Apps about books are great, especially for children with dyslexia or other reading challenges, but at the end of the day, I don’t think anything can replace the very mindful experience of reading a print book.

How do you view technology and its impact on literacy?

Technology is like food, if you do everything in moderation, it’s going to be okay. We have to allow a level of technology in our children’s lives or they’ll miss out on some of the opportunities technology brings.

On the other hand, I worry about the impact social media is having on our ability to deep read. Generally speaking, digital technologies like gaming encourage skimming and scanning rather than diving deep into story.

How might gaming be used as a gateway to books?

I have been thinking a lot since I wrote Raising Readers about how every child needs—and should be allowed to have—an identity as a reader. Sometimes, as parents and educators, we make statements about kids being into gaming or sport and not being a reader. However, gaming can be a really good introduction into world building.

Connect them with books that replicate the world building that happens in a game—there are plenty in the fantasy and sci-fi genres. The Mapmaker Chronicles by AL Tait are a great example, and any kid I’ve given it to has loved it.

How can educators encourage families to foster a love of reading at home?

I would love to see schools inviting parents to both visit and use the library, so they are walking into the library space, seeing the new books, borrowing them and engaging with the teacher librarian. I’d also like to see a lot more discussion happening between parent and child about books and more shared reading experiences.

I think we too quickly decide that when our children learn to read in year one or two and start reading more independently, our job is done. It’s actually then that you need to come in and be a critical reader with your child.

As our children turn into teens and start grunting, books are a connection point. They may not talk about the friendship issues they’re having, or the homework they’re not doing, but they will be happy to talk about a book that they have really been enjoying that you’ve also been reading. Let’s not give up reading with our children and then reading alongside our children as they grow older.

What one piece of advice would you give to a parent who wants to instil a love of reading with their child?

To not give up when your child doesn’t respond in the way you want them to. Too many parents very early on say ‘they’re not really a reader’, I’ve heard it so often in my 20 years of being a teacher librarian and I would really love them to not give up, to keep plugging away at it and helping their child to develop an identity as a reader, no matter how small that may be. I think every child deserves to develop an identity as a reader.

Do you think children seek models of reading from adults?

Absolutely. For example, I think it’s really important for dads to read, whether to their sons or daughters. My husband, who passed away 18 months ago, was a real reader and I’m grateful our girls had him as a model. However, it doesn’t have to be a parent that models reading to them, it could be a grandparent, or an educator.

At my school we have a time of mindful reading that includes the teachers.

Seeing us read our adult books has started some great conversations with the kids about the types of books we like and parts of books we don’t like, the types of authors we love; even if we have been to the book launch of the book we were reading. It’s really important for teachers to talk about their reading lives.

Our senior leadership team have a book club and they are quite open about it with both staff and students.

With all the extra curricular activities now available to them, how can kids fit reading in?

I’m a big advocate of book clubs for teens and tweens as an extracurricular activity. We send them to piano and soccer so why can’t we send them off to a reading club?

...every child deserves to develop an identity as a reader...

What’s been your favourite book club experience so far?

My absolute favourite would have to be running a year six book club, which I’ve done at co-ed schools and same-sex schools. I invite a significant adult in each student’s life to come and read with them.

I love that I introduce adults into young adult and middle range fiction and I love that the adult helps to bring their grade six child out of the hideous rainbow magic phase. I think a lot of kids get very stuck when they go to high school, and are suddenly faced with the advanced themes in middle grade and young adult fiction, so we need to help them through that transition.

It’s also really important that we have a really wide range of books in our libraries so students moving into high school have more choices than mature books they may not quite be ready for.

You’re a self-proclaimed fan of picture books. Why is that?

I love that picture books are a piece of artwork as much as they are a piece of literature. They involve such a complex interplay between words and illustrations. Often the illustrations are so exquisite they are worthy of hanging on a wall in the Gallery of Modern Art, yet they are reproduced for our children in a very digestible format.

I get distressed by picture books that aren’t great—there’s plenty of those—but when you find a good picture book it is utterly as wonderful as taking your child to the art gallery. In a world that is so saturated by imagery, from billboards to digital stuff, this generation of kids has to be taught to read images critically, and I think picture books are the absolute best way to do that. Good picture books are very sophisticated forms of literature.

Every child in the junior school has to borrow at least one picture book each week in my school and we continue that in the senior school... that practice ensures that picture books are heavily borrowed and critically analysed, as they should be. They are absolute works of art.

It’s important to spend quality reading time with your kids. How do you juggle that with a busy schedule?

Now that I’m a solo parent it has become more of a juggle. Since Dan died, one of the only times of the day that I actually sit still is when I force myself to sit down and read books to the kids at bedtime. I think we just have to make time. It’s like exercise ... in theory you can make time for exercise, so in theory you can make time for reading.

Books help us understand adversity. Do you think kids should be free to read more difficult stories?

I am reasonably conservative with some of the themes that I include in the library but I’m not conservative with some of the books that explore the more challenging experiences in life like grief, divorced families or illness.

I don’t think we should talk down to children. We often underestimate their capacity to deal with those things.

I also think kids are very interested in learning about how adults navigate tricky situations in life. A good author of children’s books knows when to reign back in, and ensures they alway leave the reader with hope. There’s darkness in life and there is light in life. It’s the same in literature. I think we do children a disservice if we only feed them books about happy things.

What part do author and illustrator events play?

At the age of 43, I still have a copy of The Place Where the Planes Take Off that Steven Herrick signed for me when I was quite young.

It was the first book launch I ever attended and I’ve been to many more since. There’s something completely magical about children meeting an author that they love...

Sometimes I don’t think authors and illustrators realise how valuable their expertise is to children in school settings. As educators—and as parents—its important we value and support those events, both at school and in the community.

Meeting the creator of a book increases a child’s connection to the story itself. I have seen this with my daughter.

It can make a real difference to reluctant readers too, especially if you introduce them to an author who has similar interests to them. Meeting the author who has invested time into a book often encourages you to invest the time in reading it.

Some of the nicest times I’ve had with my kids have been at obscure author events that end up being utterly magical. It’s easy to take your kids to the movies but it’s a far richer experience to take them to an author event.

Makerspaces are a hot topic in libraries these days. How can books be used as inspiration for makerspace projects?

I think you can use a book as a starting point for anything. Makerspaces are all about problem solving, creativity and looking at things differently and books help us do that.

Although there’s a huge number of books on engineering, it doesn’t need to be that obvious.

There’s a beautiful book called Something Wonderful by Raewyn Caisley about a little boy who creates a machine to collect eggs because he doesn’t like having to do that job on his family farm. That’s a great jumping off point for questions like: What’s a problem you don’t like doing at home? What can you design that would solve that problem?

Oliver’s Grumbles by Yvonne Mes has inspired us to talk about our feelings and make things that look ‘grumbly’. The question of what makes something look grumbly is all part of that creative process.

And then obviously there is a whole movement towards books about coding and robotics. Books like Hello Ruby have helped me understand the process of coding: why it’s important and how it’s done. For some reason, the story books about coding (which is not a topic I am personally passionate about) have helped me see why you would want to learn to code in a way nothing else could.

Some advocates suggest that if a child picks up a book and doesn’t like it, they should just put it down and choose another one. What’s your view?

This is something I often change my mind on. I’m a big fan of not making a child read a book if they hate it, but by the same token I believe you can learn something from every book that you read.

If they are really not enjoying it, then it’s probably better to put it down, but I also think that there are some books that should be given a really good go. And often they are the harder books to digest.

...treat every person you meet as someone with a story worth hearing...

One of the great ideas you share in Raising Readers focuses on developing kids’ ability to analyse why they like certain books.

Every week as my kindy kids file past me with the books they’ve chosen, I ask them to tell me why they’ve picked those particular books. At the start of the year, their answers are very simple, like ‘It’s got a dog on the front cover’ or ‘I like the colours’.

But that language develops over time. The kids start to think ‘Oh she’s going to ask me a question, I better have a good reason.’ The more you ask questions like that, the better the conversations get.

It’s clear from your writing that books have infused your entire life ... you breathe them, eat them, sleep them. What is it that you think books have given you the most?

Books have given me a very wide world view. I grew up in a community based Christian household with a lot of people from all walks of life, and I think books helped me to understand everybody I have ever come across: to treat everybody as though they’ve got a story that is worth hearing.

Books have developed my sense of community and empathy. I have deeply loved some of the characters I’ve met in books, and feel like I almost know them.

Because I was fortunate to grow up in a household that supported homeless people and refugees, I already had real connections with a diverse community of people. Even so, books have strengthened my understanding about the plight of others.

That’s what I want for my girls. Although their life became a bit smaller when their dad died, the world is a very big place and there are lots of wonderful people in it— and they need to give everyone a chance to be a friend to them and them be a friend back.

Are you planning to visit schools to talk about Raising Readers?

Definitely. I have been visiting lots of child care centres and kindies already, and speaking at events for Brisbane City Council. I like to talk to parents and educators about the value of reading. I also think it’s really important that educators stay abreast of current children’s literature, and not just the big titles.

To invite Megan to speak at your school, or view a calendar of her events, go to https:// childrensbooksdaily.com/ speaking/.