Sunday, February 14, 2010

Why Kids Re-read Books

This is a repeat (!) of a previous post titled 'The benefits of repeated reading of literature' which I wrote last year

1. Re-reading books


Re-reading is the practice of reading a book more than once. Some readers will read a favourite book over and over again. I am not speaking of boring repetitive reading of simple readers designed only to teach words or sounds, but rather repeated encounters with books that have given us pleasure and which offer us familiarity and predictability. As an aside, I'm not criticising the best examples of books with repetitive rhyme and simple vocabulary, of the type that Dr Seuss mastered. These can also give enormous pleasure and can be helpful for beginning readers.

The desire to re-read books, or to hear books again, emerges very early, as the preschool child discovers that books give pleasure when re-read. Every parent has experienced the toddler's desire to hear their favourite book many times. We see this in the three year-old who wants to read every Berenstain book several times at a sitting, or the 12 year-old who reads her favourite Betsy Byars' book over and over again. This return to the same story can bring amusement, joy, suspense and challenge each time it is read.


2. Book series

The attraction of reading a complete series of books by the same author, is linked to the pleasure of having read a book within the series, and the prospect of reading another similar one. This is the desire to read (for example) the next Harry Potter story to see where familiar characters take us. Or, the fun of discovering what new adventure might just happen to be at the top of the Faraway Tree.

It seems that there is a book series for every child, with limitless options for children of all ages. To name just a few, we have Enid Blyton's 'Faraway Tree' books, Stan and Jan Berenstain's 'Bear' books, Lucy Boston's 'Greene Knowe' series, Jeff Brown's 'Flat Stanley' books, Walter Farley's 18 'Black Stallion' books, Allan Garner's 'The Stone Book' quartet, Ursula Le Guin's 'Wizard of Earthsea' trilogy, 'The Chronicles of Narnia' by C.S. Lewis, Hugh Lofting's 'Dr Dolittle' series, Lois Lowry's 'Anastasia Krupnik' series, Emily Rodda's 'Deltora Quest', J.K Rowling's 'Harry Potter' series, Donald Sobol's 'Encyclopedia Brown' series, Laura Ingalls Wilder's 'Ingalls family' series, or Patricia Wrightson's 'Song of Wirrun'. I could list dozens more but for a wonderful list you can consult online, go to one of my favourite libraries (where I used to take my children when living in Indiana), the Monroe County Library in Indiana (here).

3. Making sense of the desire to re-read or read series of books

What is it that makes us want to re-read a well-loved book, or read a complete series of books? This seems to be counter to the modern tendency to constantly search for the new and the novel.
These two different types of reading reflect similar needs in the reader and have related benefits.
How do we explain this? What makes a child want to hear the same picture book over and over again?

In a feature article in the New York Times in May 2009, the non-fiction writer Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote that:
The love of repetition seems to be ingrained in children. And it is certainly ingrained in the way children learn to read — witness the joyous and maddening love of hearing that same bedtime book read aloud all over again, word for word, inflection for inflection. Childhood is an oasis of repetitive acts, so much so that there is something shocking about the first time a young reader reads a book only once and moves on to the next. There’s a hunger in that act but also a kind of forsaking, a glimpse of adulthood to come.
Klinkenborg has put his finger on part of the reason that children (and adults) like to revisit books; children grow up enjoying the repetitive in their play as well as in their language. It is one of the ways they learn. It is also one of the ways they become easily bored in later life so it isn't a panacea. There are many reasons why children re-read and want you to re-read. Here are some of them:
  • They desire a repeat of the pleasure that they've just had.
  • With repetition the task of reading becomes simpler and faster due to the familiarity of characters, plot and language.
  • The reader/listener can see new things when freed from the restraints of the new or the novel.
  • Re-reading offers the opportunity to reflect on and savour the language, the richness of the characters and the events that these characters have experienced.
  • Repetition creates 'more space' to engage at the personal level and become 'lost' in rich intertextual experiences as they relate the events of the book with those in their own lives, and other books, films and television that they have experienced.
All of the above are good reasons for re-reading books, or for reading book series. All these benefits have a positive impact on the developing reader; and arguably (as Klinkenborg suggests) even for adult readers. There is also great benefit in extensive experience with varied authors and genres, but there is a downside if children move too quickly in their reading experiences. A balance between variety, and the benefits of re-reading and the increased certainty of the book series, seems to be beneficial for most children. Teachers and parents have a key role in guiding young readers as they experience the joys of literature. This role includes helping them at times with book choice (see my previous post on this topic here) and encouraging them to enjoy the pleasure, comfort and predictability of repeated readings or book series.

Related Links

You can read Verlyn Klinkenborg's article in the New York Times here.

All posts on children's literature for this blog here.

6 comments:

Prue said...

Also explains why kids like vegemite on their toast and lunch, day after day after day... : )

PlanningQueen said...

My 11 year old will regularly re-read books and I have often wondered if this is a worthwhile venture. Thanks for the insight into the "why" and its benefits.

Keith Schoch said...

I know in my class students will often reread books they read a year or two ago, knowing that the new reading strategies they've gained will help them see a whole new level/layer in the book's meaning and themes. Not that they'll ever admit to that, of course.

Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks Prue, PQ & Keith. I'll never be a repeat eater of Vegemite Prue, but I know I'm rare in this country. Good point Keith about the new experience of a book when their skill has grown. With growing literacy strategies, language and knowledge of the world, they will continue to discover new things. Nice to hear from all of you. Trevor

Fiona Ingram said...

Thanks for a really informative post. Question: many adults re-read favourite books? Do you think this habit starts in childhood, for all the reasons you outline in your article? Example, rediscovering the pleasure, finding new meanings in the story etc? I have beloved books I reread, even though I know exactly what's coming next.

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Fiona, yes I do think it starts in childhood. But I think that the range of reasons for adults to read is narrower, and is mainly centred on pleasure, savouring the story and characters, being lost in the experience of the creative world that the book enables the reader to create. I also suspect that as a result it's less common than for children who also re-read to hone their skills and re-visit a book previously encountered at a less sophisticated level. Thanks for this excellent question. Trevor