The Reluctant Reader

The Reluctant Reader

by Marisa McGreevy-Rose, Chief Content and Partnerships Officer

It wasn’t always thus, but there was a time in the deep and distant past when parents and teachers didn’t know that audiobooks encourage children to read. Or, to put it another way, that audiobooks lead kids who struggle with reading - or who simply don’t want to read - towards books.

Today we understand the connection far more clearly. Thanks to in-depth research by the National Literacy Trust (NLT) into how audiobooks support children’s literacy, we know that:

  • over 50% of kids who listen to audiobooks are more interested in reading
  • over 40% are more interested in writing and
  • over 60% of audiobook kids actively enjoy reading and writing more than kids who aren’t audiobook kids.

And guess what? Kids who enjoy reading and writing also tend to do better at school. Hence, from little listeners grow little learners.

My eldest son decided in KS1 that reading was “boring.” I was flummoxed. This was a child whose home was filled with fantastic kids’ books (one of the benefits of working in children’s publishing) and who’d loved being read to, yet now he’d sit in front of the TV for as long as he was allowed to and showed zero interest in picking up a book himself. I wasn’t particularly worried in the beginning (CBeebies is brilliant, after all) but I became aware his blink rate slowed when he watched, while I juggled his younger siblings (not literally, but you get the gist) so his eyes would sometimes look tired and red, as do mine when I’ve been poring over spreadsheets. His wonderful teachers assured me that it was just a phase, that he’d find a series of books that interested him, but anything I bought or borrowed was of little interest, and he’d read a page so slowly that the story never caught fire. By Y4 I realised that he wasn’t properly equipped for the primary years’ testing regime: how could he provide the answers to questions he couldn’t read?

“It’s a different kind of adventure, listening to a story with a child.”

I suddenly realised that something key had shifted when he started primary school. I’d always loved reading picture books to him and his siblings, practising a range of silly voices and choosing well-known rhyming texts that we could shout out together, but more recently, he had specific books to read that he didn’t particularly warm to. This coincided with the younger two needing more hands-on attention throughout an extended bedtime process that spanned 90 chaotic minutes. The kids weren’t interested in the same books, and by lights-out I was a wizened husk of a woman. Reading had become less of a game, more of a chore, and sometimes it didn’t happen at all. I also realised that none of them had ever seen me, a lifelong bookworm, sit down and read, as there simply wasn’t time.

Back then, Cloudaloud didn’t exist. My local library had several copies of BBC Audio’s The Wheels on the Bus – which has its place - but the local authority generated more income from DVD rentals, so their “AV” (abbreviation of “Audio-Visual”) offering was more “V” than “A.” And who could blame them? But I did have one trick up my sleeve: from over a decade of heading up Bolinda Audio in the UK I’d amassed a collection of bestselling, award-winning kids’ audiobooks on CD. So, for the next two months, my husband wrestled the younger two into bed whilst I asked my eldest to sit with me in a quiet space, and we’d both listen. It’s a different kind of adventure, listening to a story with a child. Particularly as some were stories that I hadn’t grown up with. I remember my son’s brown eyes widening in anticipation, as he whispered, “What’s gonna happen, Mummy?” I didn’t always know, and it was thrilling.

Fast forward to 2022 and it would be so much easier, as he could listen to whatever he wanted on Cloudaloud. We’d probably start with Saviour Pirotta’s Wolfsong series, as he loved wolves. Or maybe Saviour’s First Greek Myths to tie in with the KS2 curriculum. Bren McDibble’s How to Bee would have sparked his imagination around climate change, and Steffi Cavell-Clarke’s Extreme Facts series prepped him for serious fact-swapping in Y4. He didn’t have access to these stories on audio back then as they didn’t exist, but today’s Cloudaloud kids will benefit hugely.

He went on to read scores of Barrington Stoke’s wonderful titles, which are perfect for reluctant readers, and these embedded the reading habit over the next couple of years. Today he’s preparing for GCSEs, and whilst still not a natural “print” bookworm - he’ll take TikTok over Tolkien any day - he can read well, and fast, and he devours podcasts (currently it’s Stephen Bartlett’s The Diary of a CEO). Reading is no longer an obstacle, and listening is just another way of reading. Plus it’s something he can do when he’s at the gym.

Last week an elementary school teacher from the US, having heard that we’re launching into schools, sent us a lovely virtual thumbs-up on Twitter: “In the classroom we have those kids who are headstrong anti-readers. As time goes by, they work their way [from apps] toward the classroom library.” I punched the air when I read that. Because he’s right, they really do. “It’s another avenue and I love it.” And so do we, my friend. So do we.


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