The right not to finish a book

Photo by Lina Kivaka on

I love reading out loud to my class. There is nothing sweeter than when a book grabs their collective attention, and they are seated spellbound, imaginations lost deep within the tale; only pausing to breathe at the exact moment you turn the page.

Roald Dahl is the master of writing books to read out loud. They skip, weave, duck and dive effortlessly through emotions ranging from slapstick humour, adventure, danger and pathos. It’s no surprise that books like the BFG began as bedtime stories for his granddaughter, Sophie. His gobblefunk wordplay is joyfully playful and often requires thrilling but tricky verbal gymnastics to accomplish saying them out loud without tripping over your tongue. As Buddy the Elf would say:

Francisco! That’s fun to say! Francisco… Frannncisco… Franciscooo…

Elf, 2003. Film. Directed by FAVREAU, J. United States: New Line Cinema.

I also really enjoy reading the likes of Philip Pullman and Neil Gaiman for brilliant plots and characters and settings that grow and grow until,

the (classroom) walls become the world all around.

Sendak, M. (1984). Where the Wild Things Are. New York: Harper & Row.

But how subjective is it? If I’m not feeling it, does it show? I struggle with reading Michael Morpurgo out loud. Is that wrong? And I remember giving up on Clive King’s Stig Of The Dump, despite having fond memories of my own P5 teacher reading out loud to me in class. I sadly couldn’t find the voice for it and the class were bored.

I gave up on reading a book to my 6 year old son tonight. Or, rather, he did. Roddy Doyle’s The Giggle Treatment…. Now, I’ve struggled with this one before and even though I was still finding the postmodern mini chapters deeply irritating I was determined to finish it. With extra sauce to make up for the last time. But Jamie wasn’t feeling it either.

‘Can we just erase that bit of the story if it happens again?’

He said last night about one of those pesky mini chapters. Then, tonight he put his foot down.

‘No more!’

What should I do? The best bit is still to come, I lied.


I’ll miss out all those annoying mini chapters.


He had a point. We had just finished reading all 5 books in the Spiderwick Chronicles…. He loved them and became obsessed by the adventure, the characters, the setting and the superb plot. Plot really matters to Jamie and The Giggler Treatment was found wanting. Then I remembered Daniel Pennac’s wonderful ‘The Rights of the Reader. ‘… I use this with every class and refer to it all the time when trying to build a culture and a habit of reading for pleasure. Jamie was exerting his right not to finish a book. He wasn’t slacking, he wasn’t being lazy, he certainly wasn’t being a reluctant reader – he just wasn’t enjoying it. And neither was I. So we stopped.

(Jamie) stepped into his private boat and waved good-bye
and into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him
and it was still hot.

Sendak, M. (1984). Where the Wild Things Are. New York: Harper & Row.

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