Jeff Norton's tips

Jeff Norton is a writer and filmmaker. His first book series, METAWARS, is inspired by his experiences as a reluctant reader who was more into films and video games than books.

Q: What books did you read when you were a child?
A: I actually hated reading as a boy. I wasn’t very good at it and I was embarrassed. The books that my school wanted me to read just weren’t as interesting as films and video games.

The first books that made me feel like I could enjoy books were called “Choose Your Own Adventure.” They gave me the confidence to tackle more advanced books.

I then read a book called “After the Bomb” that was so terrifying that I kept asking myself “what would I do?” That book led me to seek out other books that were just as thrilling.

Q: If you could be a storybook character who would you be?
A: I’ve always been a big super hero fan, and my favourite is still Superman.

Q: What is the best thing about reading?
A: The thing that’s magical about reading is that story is realised by your imagination. I love films and video games, but the imagination is more powerful than HD or 3D!

Q: What is your all time favourite book?
A: “The Great Gatsby.” Fitzgerald is masterful in his description of the time, place, and mood of 1920’s America and brings his flawed characters to life in way that feels both naturalistic and otherworldly.

Q: Other than reading books what is the most important thing a parent can do to help develop their children’s communication skills?
A: I’m not an expert on early child development, but with a three-year-old son, the one conscious choice we’ve made is to talk to him a lot. I notice a lot of parents push their children in a pram facing out (instead of facing the parent or caregiver) which cuts out so much verbal and non-verbal communication.

I narrate his actions and follow his interests, giving him words and context for the things he is interested in versus asking him to pay attention to what I’m focused on.

The other thing I feel strongly about, and this is simply a personal decision, is to limit (and if possible) avoid screen-time until a child is at least three. It sounds easier than it is, but I think as great as most of today’s children’s television is, it shouldn’t be for children under three. I also see a lot of children, of all ages, vying for their parent’s attention while the parent is on the iPhone or blackberry. I’m certainly guilty of this sometimes, but I think when there are children around, the technology needs to be put away.

Q: How big a part did your parents play in encouraging your writing skills?
A: Writing and storytelling is something that came quite late to me. My parents were always very encouraging of my early interests in performing arts, but in terms of writing their support was more directed at my homework assignments and essays. I suspect they (rightfully) wanted to encourage me to get a solid academic grounding and a professional (i.e. lawyer) career. I didn’t become a professional storyteller until my mid-thirties, and I suppose that makes me a “late bloomer.”

Q: How do you encourage your children or grandchildren to read, what books do you enjoy reading with them?
A: Books are a big part of our time together. I’ve tried to inspire a love of books in my three-year-old. Going to the library is something he looks forward to and our local independent bookshop knows him by name. We’ve expanded bedtime reading (usually 3-4 picture books) into other day parts, such as after nursery or even weekend morning time.

Repetition also seems to be a big factor with early reading routines. I think young children like to master picture books, which means I know “Where the Wild Things Are,” “Hairy Maclary,” and “Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown” by heart!

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