Alison Cassels is the CKG Judge for Yorkshire & The Humber YLG and is a Reading Officer in Wakefield.
When I was eight, I walked into a wardrobe, brushing past fur coats, feeling the snow crunching under my feet, and came out under a lamp post into a new world. Yes, it was Lucy’s adventure really but as I sat enraptured as a wonderful teacher (thanks, Mr Brennan) read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to us, it became mine too.
When a child from a Shadowing group I visited asked me what it is I love about reading, this is what I thought about. I told him what I discovered in the classroom that day, how books take you to other places and times and let you meet people and experience lives that are different to your own.
Now, research is showing how important this is. When we are absorbed in a novel our brains think we are part of the story and the empathy we feel for the fictional characters wires our mind to feel the same way about real people. When children experience other lives through books, they learn that other people have feelings just like them and learn to see the world in a different way. To find out more about this research, visit the Empathy Lab http://www.empathylab.uk/
‘In reading, you get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals’ Neil Gaiman, Empathy Lab.
Reading all the 114 nominations for the Carnegie Medal was an incredible experience. It often seemed strange and difficult to come back to my ‘real life’ as my reading life went from Alaska to Australia, from inner cities to outer space. I met many people in situations that I have never come across myself and learned from them about the challenges facing children and young people today. One of the criteria for the Carnegie Medal is ‘’a vicarious, but at the time of reading, a real experience that is retained afterwards.’’ To feel so many of those real experiences in such a short time left me feeling shattered and also so enriched by the journeys I had made and the characters I had met. It’s a reading experience that will stay with me for a long time and I’m so excited that soon I will push open that wardrobe door and start on another big adventure.