Thursday 5th was World Book Day, a celebration of all things bookish. That happens every day in my house, and I love it when the rest of the world joins in.
I spent a happy five minutes chatting to a friend in my local bakery as children walked past to school dressed as The Cat in the Hat and Hetty Feather and pirates and fairies discussing what we’d dress as if we were going to school as characters from our favourite books.
We both agreed on Katniss Everdeen – kickass and good with a bow. I was particularly pleased to find another adult who admires her character because it’s not long since a read an article complaining about childrens’ literature in general, and dismissing The Hunger Games in particular.
Now, I barely get riled by these articles any more because they appear so often they seem to be stereotypical media staples. I can picture the editorial meeting:
“Bit of a slow news day today, so we’re looking for something for our culture pages. Shall we be snooty about genre fiction, women’s fiction or children’s fiction today?”
Hand raises, “I got my son a popular book and he didn’t enjoy it, so I could write a sneering piece complaining that children don’t read the right books any more.”
“Great. Give me 500 words by 4pm.”
The article (in the Telegraph, click through if it’s of interest (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/11438003/This-childrens-story-has-a-sting-in-its-tail.html) claimed to be glad that children are reading more, but there was a big ‘but’ – there always is, isn’t there? – unfortunately, they were reading ‘easy’ books rather than ‘challenging’ ones, especially once they reached secondary school.
There is so much to argue with in that single statement: what do they even mean by challenging versus easy – based on what? Vocabulary? Grammatical structure? Concepts explored? When they picked on The Hunger Games, I wondered if the writer had actually read it, or just assumed from its popularity that it must be easy, and hence worthless. In my opinion, a book in which the subject explored is the televised murder of children by children for entertainment and to control and subdue the population of a nation surely can’t be described as ‘easy’.
Any attempt to divide books into ‘good’ and ‘bad’, or ‘worthy’ versus ‘worthless’ is unutterably, depressingly pointless because it boils down to a value judgement based on the taste of the individual dividing the books into acceptable and frowned-upon.
Much of the complaint in the article seemed to be that children aren’t reading the books that the writer read as a child. Well, d’you know what, there’s a lot more to chose from now, so some of the books you loved are likely to fall by the wayside for your children. By all means share the ones you loved, but why should your children restrict themselves to your choices? And have you noticed what amazing books have been published in the last few years? Paisley Piranhas could offer you a list, if you need somewhere to start!
Books, all books, are good for you. Reading is a wonderful human pastime which develops our minds and enlarges our souls (again, imo – but if I’m wrong it’s certainly not doing us any harm). Books allow you to try out someone else’s life. In a world that seems to be becoming increasingly, scarily, polarised, something that allows you to slip into someone else’s skin and experience the world from their point of view is so precious it should be cherished for the wonder it is. The Telegraph writer noted that, “Getting children to read is one thing,” and added a great big ‘but’. Let’s take out that ‘but’ because getting people to read isn’t one thing, it’s everything. Read anything, read what you like, for whatever reason you choose to read. That’s enough.