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.

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.




I Don’t Know How She Does It – so awful it’s funny

Still reeling from a difficult week which culminated in my son throwing his shoes at me and calling me a t**t, I sought some solace with a friend, who was also in need of a laugh and we went to see I Don’t Know How She Does It.  The film met it’s objective in that we did indeed laugh, but unfortunately we laughed at it and not with it.  We also joined in with the slow handclap at the end which is more then the film deserved.

Kate Reddy is well off, attractive, has a job she loves, a beautiful house in Boston, an adoring husband and two angelic children, who are cared for by a nanny whilst she is jetting off to very important meetings with handsome men.  She is definitely one of life’s rollover lottery winners.  But there is one big problem in her life: she is rather busy.  And we, the austerity viewers, are meant to feel sorry for her.    

The script was badly written, corny, out-dated and full of ludicrous and cruel stereotypes (the stay-at-home mums being the worst examples).  Kate’s trials were nothing compared to the trials that many of us face on a daily basis and for that reason there was no dramatic tension whatsoever.  Her infestation was cured by a single visit to a special salon where rubber-gloved ladies were paid to remove every last egg, nit and lice.  There was no embarrassing conversation at the counter in Boots, no application of noxious shampoo, she didn’t spend hours every evening combing out her and her children’s hair and she didn’t spend days looking like she had dipped her head in an oil slick.

The film was an insulting portrait of the lives of parents, particularly mothers.  It depresses me that film-makers, writers and journalists seem so out-of-touch with real life and shamelessly serve up this horse shit.

Have you seen the film?  Let me know your thoughts.

Doing it for the Kids – why school can be particularly difficult for some children

In my first year at secondary school, during a maths lesson, I wet myself.  The teacher barked an order at me, I didn’t understand her and was too scared to ask for clarification.  When inevitably I carried out her order incorrectly, the forces of hell were unleashed upon me.  She screeched and screamed and spittle was propelled from her anger on to my face.  I had never felt such fear before, nor such humiliation.

Now I am all grown up I can see that she was a milicious child-hater who should not have been working anywhere near children.  Back then we used what little power we had by calling her Davros behind her back and whispering ‘resistance is futile’ whenever she came near.  Davros for those not familiar with Doctor Who of the 1970s was the emperor dalek.  He had a dalek bottom half with a grotesque human head, arms and torso perched on the top.  The maths teacher was a close match both in looks and temperament.

It was my son Jamie’s first day at secondary school yesterday.  Many aspects of his transition into the next stage of education have been managed well and I wish that my secondary school had been half as good as his appears to be.  But Jamie has found school very difficult, so when he came home yesterday smiling and reporting on a good day, I was relieved.  At bedtime though, traditionally the confessional time in our house, he said he had felt humiliated by the maths teacher. For a child who has struggled with education I was immediately impressed at the use of such a long word and then saw the tears in his eyes.  Children with early trauma can see humiliation and put down where none was intended and Jamie is no exception.  But a public mocking can also inflict a painful wound on a child with deep insecurities.  So not knowing the whole truth of the matter and aware that secondary schools expect some distance from pesty mothers, I will bide my time and see how things go.  I decided instead to recount my Davros story to him and he listened wide-eyed.  At breakfast this morning he told his sister that mummy wet herself at school and they both choked with laughter.  Jamie went to school looking happy. There’s no maths today.

Gifted Children

A beautiful friend once complained to me how difficult life can be for the highly attractive.  Apparently it is akin to being rich; one tends to be judged on one’s bountiful gifts and not on one’s inner qualities.  It was hard to dredge up any feelings of sympathy.  I was reminded of this moment when I listened to Woman’s Hour on Friday and learned of the existence of the National Association for Gifted Children.  It appears that being a quick learner comes with its own drawbacks amongst which can be boredom, which leads to messing around in class, which leads to a prescription for Ritalin.

As a governor of a small primary school I have often heard parents complaining that their gifted children are not being well-served.  There may be some truth in this of course, but their complaints outnumber the complaints of those representing children at the other end of the spectrum, by quite some margin and by most measures they have far more reason to complain.  There is something of the sharp-elbowed about it and that is why educators and budget-setters have to be wary of the loud, educated voices of self-interest and balance them against the interests of children who may not have such effective advocates.

Most children who have spent their early years staring at a ceiling are not likely to be bothering the National Association for Gifted Children any time soon.  If they are messing around in class then it will have much more to do with fear and self-loathing than about finding the work too easy.  Like gifted children they don’t qualify for any special funding at school (the government ceased funding schemes for Gifted and Talented children earlier this year). It is worth spelling this out – a child whose early neglect and abuse renders that child often unable to function in the classroom at all receives no additional help or funding within school.  If that child has special educational needs then they will get funding, but if their difficulties are not so easy to label then unless they happen to be in an unusually understanding school, that child will perform far below their potential.  And there is more to play for here than dropping a few GCSE grades.

So maybe those of us who parent these children need to sharpen our elbows and become more vocal.  There are many complex reasons why that is difficult.  Our children take a lot of parenting which leaves little energy left for campaigning.  We can be vilified by other parents who are fed up with our children disrupting the education of theirs, which saps one’s self-confidence.  And many of us don’t want to go broadcasting the confidential facts about our children’s background around the playground.  But maybe there could be a solution which helps everyone.  If these children who started life at the bottom of the heap, were to receive the help they so badly need then their life chances would be radically improved.  It is likely that classroom disruption would be reduced and the benefits felt by every child.  It would be money intelligently spent and the marker of a mature and caring society – a big society.