“Reading aloud to children will make them more successful adults”

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Does he like children memorizing poetry, a notion that conjures up Victorian images of terrified schoolchildren stubbornly reciting Tennyson? “It can be great for your self-confidence if you can stand up and recite a poem,” he says. “But learning poetry by heart is certainly not for everyone. I think the way poetry has sometimes been taught in the past has turned some people off. And it’s a terrible shame.

Coelho, who lives in Folkestone with his partner, author Manjeet Mann, may be the children’s winner, but he is a firm believer in the role adults can play in broadening children’s relationship with literature. He tells the statistics: almost 20% of children in England do not have access to books at home; more than half of children between the ages of five and seven do not read to their parents daily.

He also knows the serious damage that not reading or being read for pleasure does. “It affects everything: your future health, your happiness. Being read regularly as a child has a greater impact on your life chances than your parents’ socioeconomic background. But there is often a generational aspect. If the parents themselves had difficulties at school, reading aloud can become very difficult. We need to eliminate this stigma.

Coelho was also unread as a child. He grew up in a tower block in Roehampton, south-west London, with his Anglo-Indian mother and sister (his parents were never together and he only met his Jamaican father, with whom he has a good relationship). relationships, than when he was in his teens). There were hardly any books in the flat, although his mother, who became pregnant with him when she was still a teenager, often took him to the library ‘partly because it was free’ . Everything changed when the poet Jean “Binta” Breeze gave a workshop at the school of Coelho. “It blew my mind and my friends,” he says. “And it was the first time I saw someone who looked like me and who was also a poet.” He began to write and read poetry, first by Allan Ahlberg and Kate Wakeling, then by Shakespeare and Sylvia Plath.

“People expect teenagers not to be interested in poetry. But it’s when you’re a teenager that your emotions are at their rawest. He continued to write poetry at UCL, where he studied archeology – much to the amazement of his family, who couldn’t understand why anyone wanted to go to college “because nobody in my family doesn’t had never been there before”. And he became increasingly interested in performing, becoming involved in the pioneering spoken word organization Apples and Snakes, whose regular poets, many of whom were black like him, juggled writing, performing and holding poetry workshops in schools – providing him with a career path he had not previously known existed.


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