In Other Words



The Most Patient Of Teachers

3 May 2016

Many of us can remember the earliest books that left their mark. Books that took us on vivid journeys, reached deeply into our hearts, ignited our emotions, and steered us down new pathways of thought and understanding.

In The Tale of Peter Rabbit, I was beside Peter when he narrowly escaped the same terrible ‘pie’ fate that met his father, despite the warning by his mother to stay out of mischief and Mr. McGregor's vegetable garden. I was relieved when Peter was finally home again, and full of empathy when he was too sick to share bread, milk and berries with his mother and sisters. Learning to be wary, the value of having a safe place, the wisdom of those who love you, and to be grateful, are just a few life lessons that we can teach our children through such stories.

In my early primary school years, I was a casual bookworm only, squeezing reading time in between other curiosity-driven hyperactive pastimes. But as I approached adolescence, my reading became both a passion and a much needed gateway to spy the world outside my bedroom. Books gave me the opportunity to learn in detail about life, not just from the printed words I could see, but from the constructively hidden meanings and morals between the lines as well.

Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty gave me insight into vulnerability, the cruelty of some and the kindness of others. Colin Thiele’s Storm-Boy showed me that true friendship is far deeper than a Saturday afternoon play date, and demonstrating the type of intolerance that equates with ignorance. When I was given a William Wordsworth book of poems, I did indeed wander lonely as that cloud he wrote about, seeing places that were vast and golden, and waiting for me to explore.

Alan Marshall, in I Can Jump Puddles, wrote from his own experiences after contracting polio as a young boy, and I lived his painful obstacles and prejudice; and in Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, I discovered a much darker side of humanity, and discrimination on a scale that my young mind found difficult to imagine.

As I stepped precariously towards adulthood, The Catcher in the Rye told me that other teenagers also felt awkward and isolated at times, and I wasn't so different after all; and Wuthering Heights demonstrated the consequences of poor choices, about ostracising others because of their social status, and that humiliation can produce a lifetime of insecurity and self-doubt.

Then finally stumbling from my angst-ridden teenage years, Aldous Huxley introduced me to his Brave New World, which reminded me to appreciate the imperfect, emotional beings that we all are.

The stories in books, even the melodramatic and farcical, are in fact life lessons. In our own quiet space, away from all the visual distractions we are now bombarded with, books offer the opportunity and time to examine our own sense of worth and purpose, and to assess our own behaviours.

Without books, I believe that children miss out on learning to use their own power of imagination to create, understand and educate. Reading is a mental workout that we don’t get from television and short bursts of text on social media.

According to the results of surveys by Scholastic and YouGov online research, reading enjoyment drops significantly after the ages of 8 in the U.K., with children competing with other screen and mobile phone activities. In the U.S., there has been a gradual reduction since 2010 in the percentage of students who read for enjoyment after the age of 8. While in Australia, Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority has shown that reading drops away by the end of primary school. John Hattie, Chairman of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, suggests that most school curriculums don’t include a good reading program for students after the age of 8, with the assumption that students have already grasped the skills.

Even in this age of abundant technological stimulants, the good news is the ever-increasing volume of children’s books available through bookstores and libraries. Practically speaking, your child doesn't need to read every day. But just as we encourage them to eat healthy food, they also need a balanced diet of educational tools to include reading and reconnecting with the selfless, undemanding printed word.

As American Academic, Charles W. Eliot put it: “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”


Gemma Liviero


Scholastic.com: Kids & Family Reading Report 2015.
SMH Article 12/15 E.Bagshaw/H.Cook: NAPLAN 2015.



© Gemma Liviero 2018

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