On the Guardian’s blog last week Dina Rabinovitch put forward some suggestions on how to help younger boys to continue reading. Unlike many other blog posts this one got few comments. So, do we assume that children’s reading is a dead boring subject? Not something you can make clever comments about, to show off with?
The mobile library started coming to our street when Son was ten. Wanting to be supportive of the service I went religiously every time, laden with books for all the family. Son wanted audio books to listen to in bed. The child ones quickly turned into more grown up ones, like Agatha Christie, Bill Bryson, Douglas Adams, Wodehouse. Cassettes cost less for children so I always took them out on Son’s library card. Until the day the librarian said children couldn’t borrow adult cassettes. “But I’m his mother” I said, “and these are very innocent ones.” No, it seems there were rules. Closer interrogation of the librarian revealed that the worst possible author for under sixteens would be Terry Pratchett. I had then just visited Son’s future secondary school and vaguely remembered seeing a shelf full of Pratchetts in the school library. A school for under sixteens.
I went on to buy my own audio books instead, and Son still falls asleep to a good selection of books. Kim, The Riddle of the Sands and The Moonstone are favourites, nearly worn out. And he’s read an awful lot of Pratchetts over the years. So, well done librarian, for wanting to censor a child’s reading. I thought your job was the opposite, but disapproving is so much more fun. After all, that’s what I’m doing right now. The mobile library no longer comes this way.
Talking to my bookshop last week about Horrid Henry, I learnt that whereas children love him, many (insecure?) parents come in and complain. They are presumably the ones I used to observe at home time eagerly checking school bags for new reading books. The ones (unlike me) who sat down every day and made their children read the reading book. And once they’ve learnt, they disapprove of what they like to read.
Some years on, when Son was fourteen, his school was visited by Tim Bowler. Generously, Tim spent a lot of time talking about his friend Melvin Burgess’ latest book Doing It. This was shortly after Anne Fine had wanted to burn it for being too filthy. Tim persuaded the three adults present that we wanted to read the book, and we all did. I’d say it’s not the ideal book for a middle aged woman, but that wasn’t Melvin’s target group. The school’s copy of Doing It is still sitting on the shelf in the office, as very few parents would allow their child to borrow it. So why do all these parents and teachers work so hard at getting young children to read? Just think how many unsuitable books could be avoided, really easily, if the child doesn’t learn to read in the first place.
On of my most recent reads was Susan Patron’s The Higher Power of Lucky, which won the Newbery medal. Except I gather many libraries in the US banned the book because it has the word scrotum in it. Shock horror. If I hadn’t known, I’d have thought it was a sweet and enchanting story about a young girl. But then I grew up with a mother who had Lady Chatterley on her shelf. Very bad.