Educator Michael Panckridge started writing sports-themed books to help reluctant young readers. That was 40 books ago. Read his story - and his five tips to encourage reading.
By Shane Green
Michael Panckridge found himself sitting in the old commentary box at Victoria Park, spiritual home of the Collingwood Football Club.
It was 2001, and Michael, then a primary school teacher, had wandered across during the lunch break from a nearby seminar on how to help reluctant readers.
One such student was in Michael’s Year 6 class, a sporty kid whose reading was confined to the numbers and stats of the Guinness World Records book.
As he soaked up the atmosphere of more than a century of black-and-white heroics, the teacher – a sports fanatic – was inspired. What if he could write a sporty story to engage reluctant readers?
Michael Panckridge has since written over 40 book for young readers. The first 21 were sports-themed, including the Toby Jones series, written with Australian cricket great Brett Lee.
He’s also written mystery adventure novels, including The Cursed, The Vanishings and The Immortal.
This summer, he has returned to the sports theme with four new cricket books, produced with the Big Bash League, the popular 20-over game competition that has been a particular hit with younger fans and families.
Carnival Splash, Academy Smash, Representative Clash, and Championship Dash are fast-paced and engaging, with plots built around the Big Bash teams, and strong male and female central characters.
Carnival Splash, for example, tells the story of two teams of kids chosen to represent the Sydney Sixers and the Sydney Thunder at a cricket carnival. Maddie, Chase and Jye have been selected. But not everything goes to plan, with a series of strange occurrences. Will the carnival be a success?
Michael’s literary adventure has run alongside his career as an educator. After primary teaching, he became Deputy Head of the Middle School at The Geelong College, a Member School of Independent Schools Victoria.
He’s also a maths teacher, and many students have been unaware of his other life as an author. For them he’s just been ‘Mr P, the maths teacher’.
Despite the public debate and angst over declining literacy standards and the impact of digital media on reading, Michael is reasonably optimistic about the future of reading by young people.
When it comes to encouraging reading, he emphasises the importance of what happens at home.
‘It’s mums and dads reading to their children, sharing a love of reading, finding some time to read,’ he says.
‘I’m not so big on “let’s shut the world off and this is now our half hour of reading time every night”. I think that’s a little bit sterile. I just think it needs to happen when it can naturally happen.’
Michael urges parents to be reading role models and fill the house with books.
As a child, Michael says he was a reluctant reader. But his father – an author, teacher and librarian – had thousands of books in the home. Eventually, he engaged with reading. ‘Books weren’t an odd thing – they were there and about.’
He’s also encouraged by the recognition that there’s value in children reading from a broad range of sources.
When he was a primary student, he got into trouble for taking a football magazine to school. It was confiscated, and he was told the magazine was not appropriate material for him to be reading.
‘Nowadays, thankfully we don’t mind what the kids are reading as long as they’re reading something,’ says Michael. ‘They’re engaging in words, and they’re engaging in literature in some format. I think that’s really important.’
This year, he has decided to go part-time, which will enable him to expand his work in schools encouraging young writers.
He champions the importance of the idea. And kids, he says, have wonderful ideas. He tells aspiring writers to have an interesting, engaging idea – ‘an idea that makes someone want to turn the page and continue reading.’
Michael Panckridge’s 5 Top Tips to Encourage Reluctant Readers
The Big League Bash books are published by Penguin Random House, rrp $14.99 each.
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