Madeline Finn and the Library Dog
Old Barn Books, 2017
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
Madeline Finn does not like to read. Not books. Not magazines. Not even the menu on the ice cream van. Reading out loud in class is a nightmare and the words get stuck in her mouth “like peanut butter” and the other children laugh. While they get stars from their teacher, all Madeline gets is a “Keep Trying” sticker. She gets a lot of those. But she desperately wants a star and so one night she makes a wish on a star for a star.
Sadly, some wishes take a bit of time to come true and come the end of the week and it’s time for her to visit the local library she is truly despondent, is tired of trying and has all but convinced herself she will never be a reader. But librarian Mrs Dimple has a surprise for her – a surprise that will not only turn her reading around but also her life…
There are children like Madeline Finn in every class – children who hate the out-dated practice of having to read aloud to the group because all it does is shine a public light on their struggles as they try to master the written word and self-talk themselves further and further down the rabbit hole of being a non-reader. As a teacher and teacher librarian who has spent 45 years helping little ones to read I wanted to shake Madeline’s teacher and show her that stickers and stars and “keep trying” are fruitless – but then Lisa Papp wouldn’t have had a story and there wouldn’t have been a happy outcome, albeit fraught with anxiety, for Madeline.
Sharing this story with the class will help the Madelines understand that there are many kids like them who just haven’t quite got reading sorted yet, but that it is achievable and even enjoyable. They are not the only ones who find the squiggles on the page confronting but that it is OK to make “mistakes” and these become fewer as their understanding and confidence grows. Reading is not about the stars on a chart, but the inner satisfaction of being immersed in something that takes you away from the here and now and into the land of imagination and possibility.
More and more the power of dogs as pets as therapy is being recognised and they are turning up in all sorts of places. While it might not be possible to have one in your school library, it is possible to substitute Bonnie for a teddy – or a host of teddies – so those who have yet to develop confidence in their reading because they believe “real readers” don’t make mistakes can have a non-judgemental partner to read to. My experience was children who dreaded coming to the library would be there before school and at lunchtimes reading to their favourite teddy – I ended up with about 50 in the collection – as they built their confidence and their skills in a safe, friendly, non-threatening environment. They even became regular borrowers!
While this story will bring comfort and hope to a lot of little people, hopefully it will also inspire teachers to reflect on their professional practice and consider whether they are doing things that inadvertently marginalise their not-there-yet readers and make changes.
Teacher’s hat is now off!