Encouraging Our Boys to Read

Much is spoken and written about the difficulties of encouraging boys to read.  As with many of these modern day (dare I say middle class) parenting worries, the adoptive parent will want to shout to the world ‘you have NO IDEA what my life is like!’.  For many of us, sitting our sons down with an improving novel comes way way down the list of priorities.

So for what it’s worth and with no professional qualifications in the matter whatsoever, here is what has often, but not always, worked in our family:

  • Picture books

Picture books, picture books, let me say it again, picture books.  They are fun and interactive and they take the pressure off.  Some have a fair few words in too.  We like ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Book’ by Lauren Child.


  • Funny Voices

I have read Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series voicing Moonface as Derek Hatton and the Saucepan Man as Dot Cotton.  It was hard to keep up at times and sometimes Moonface became more Liam Gallagher than Derek Hatton, but it was dead funny.


  • Enid Blyton

Many literary types disapprove of Enid Byton’s books because she doesn’t use enough long words. And even as a big fan I must agree that some titles, which I can’t even bring myself to write here, have quite rightly been mothballed.  But we love her.  There’s just enough danger in her books and the children always come home safely.  And there’s usually a know-it-all or a kid who doesn’t like getting dirty to sneer at together.


  • Jokes

The Mr Gum books filled a gap that nothing else would.  They are bizarre and imaginative and surreal and they provide a useful supply of ludicrous catch phrases.  There are lots of pictures amongst the text and they are quick to read.  Just remember though THE TRUTH IS A LEMON MERINGUE.


  • A Page Each

After a long day at school not sitting still and arguing with your classmates, the last thing you need is your naggy mother nagging you to sit and read a stupid book.  Much better if your naggy mother shares the reading with you.  It gives you chance to snuggle up to her and realise that she’s not that bad after all.


  • Know What to Avoid

In our house Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket and anything too overtly about adoption (sadly the squirrel books, although well-intentioned, are way too obvious).



  • Poems

Good for when times are really hard or the book is languishing in the drawer at school.  We like Spike Milligan.


  • Have Some Days Off

‘You must read with your child every day’ say the schools.  Don’t tell the teacher, but we don’t.  There are some days when it just ain’t gonna happen.  There are some weeks when it ain’t gonna happen.  It doesn’t matter.  Bond in front of the television instead.  My son and I have recently bonded over The Great British Bake Off and Educating Essex (recorded of course, it’s on far too late).


  • The Dead, by Charlie Higson

This is my son’s suggestion for this list.  He is eleven.  He has fought against reading for a long time and this summer he read this book, by choice.  Result.

The Traditions That Glue Families Together

What makes a family?  For many people this question doesn’t ever need asking, but for those of us who have assembled a family through adoption it is a relevant one.  So many things do not make our families.  They are clearly not made by a shared genetic heritage.  I am no more biologically related to my children, than I am my husband.  There are many aspects of our own experiences of being parented which we cannot hand down either and so we have had to learn new ways of parenting.  But nevertheless, the Donovans, the four of us, are a strong family unit.

Our esteemed Social Worker, Mr R who has helped us through some tricky times, recently talked to us about family traditions, ‘you know’ he said, ‘the sorts of things that are particular to your family, little phrases, particular names for things, days which are marked in special ways’.  He described these family oddities as the glue which sticks and binds and is the starting culture of a shared heritage.

Of course, when put on the spot for something like this, the mind goes blank.  (It is like being asked what your favourite books or albums are and inexplicably your brain is only able to access the late 1980s – ‘yes I very much enjoy The Bone People and kd Lang).  So to Mr R, Rob and I both looked as though we lacked the imagination to create even the flimsiest of traditions.  The obvious family traditions are woven into the Big Days such as birthdays and (breathe out first) Christmas.  But for many adoptive families, the Big Days are littered with landmines, which are exploded by the trip wires of vague memories, broken attachments and shame. So for our families, more than most, our traditions have to be rooted in the every day, the mundane and also the bizarre.

Here are a selection of some of my favourite Donovan family traditions:

  • the person who creeps downstairs early in the morning and eats biscuits and cake decorations is known as ‘the cupboard fairy’, we all know her human form, but we do not speak her name, for she knows who she is
  • the cloth which removed all signs of food around tiny mouths after mealtimes was affectionately known as ‘the magic flannel’, it has gone out of use, but it’s memory continues
  • ‘I’m Thinking About My Doorbell. When You Gonna Ring It?  When You Gonna Ring It?’ by the White Stripes is the family anthem, we all know the words and can air drum along to it, the little Donovans are yet to understand the true meaning of the lyrics
  • we have our own Donovan family ranking system for swear words which starts with ‘arse’ and ends with, well, a word which came up when whilst we were reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with the eldest Donovan child, which I shall leave for you dear readers to deduce.

And all these strange terms and quirky little songs and the memories which they hold, all play their part in giving us a shared language with which we can celebrate the good times.

E-Petition, Rights for adopted children formerly in Local Authority Care

When our son started to have significant problems at school, it came as a shock to our family that the state had no legal obligation to provide either psychological or educational support for him.  If we had fostered and not adopted him, he would have been eligible to receive the support he needed.  The impact upon chlldren of neglect and abuse is obviously not washed clean by the granting of an adoption order, but the beaurocracy chooses not to see it that way.  Adoptive parents are left fighting a system for help, when their time and energies are already under great strain.  Adoptive children are left to fail, which only goes to reinforce their view of themselves, that what has happened to them is their fault.  At the same time that these huge demands are put upon adoptive parents, we are told that there is a desperate shortage of adopters.  There could well be a connection.  It is estimated that for each child adopted the state saves a million pounds.  It does not seems unfair that a small part of this saving should go towards supporting some of our most vulnerable children. 

An e-petition has been posted on the government website which seeks to rectify this situation.  It hits the nail on the head.  I urge everyone to take two minutes, follow the link and to sign the petition.  It could make a real difference to thousands of children who have the right to a second chance.