What is the point of literacy if not stories? It's the key to unlocking that magical world of books. Early experiences of reading are often driven by the desire to get behind those seemingly impenetrable words to the rich stories behind them. I particularly like Francis Spufford's description in "The Child That Books Built" that describes so evocatively the experience of stepping from laboured reading to effortless fluency:
“...the writing has softened and lost the outlines of the printed alphabet and become a transparent liquid, first viscous and sluggish, like a jelly of meaning, then even thinner and more mobile, flowing faster and faster, until it reached me at the speed of thinking and I could not entirely distinguish the suggestions it was making from my own thoughts. I had undergone the acceleration into the written word that you also experience as a change in the medium. In fact, writing has ceased to be a thing – an object in the world – and become a medium, a substance you look through” (Spufford 2002:65).
The important thing is that the effort of reading must pay off, and the reward for that incredible effort is being able to gain independent entry into the wonderful world of stories. Spufford goes on to speak about reading:
“...for the words we take into ourselves help to shape us. They help form the questions we think are worth asking; they shift around the boundaries of the sayable inside us, and the related borders of what’s acceptable; their potent images, calling on more in us than the response we will ourselves to have, dart new bridges into being between our conscious and unconscious minds, between what we know we know and the knowledge we cannot examine by thinking. They build and stretch and build again the chambers of our imagination” (2002:21-22).
This type of creative immersion in the world of reading is far more than simply a mechanical process of decoding signs (the alphabet). It is something more. Something magical. Functional reading doesn't offer the same motivation to put in the hard work it takes to learn to read, only reading for pleasure offers that. If we can't offer children the magic of stories, then what is the point of reading really?