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A very disturbing article beamed its way across the internet to me today; A survey of UK 15-16 year olds, showing that with an average reading age of 10-11, many can’t understand their GCSE exam papers…
Yet, at the same time, there are parents boasting about how their 10-11 year old children are so grown up and advanced that they no longer read children’s books.

I find both of these facts desperately sad.

In the first case, these children are being robbed of the most essential tool they need to navigate the human world. Leaving a person semi-literate at best, is akin to deliberately disabling them. On one level, it deprives them of innumerable opportunities, jobs they can never do, paths they can never follow.
But it goes far deeper than that. It disenfranchises people. Recently the news has reported the story of Malala Yousufzai, the 15 year old girl shot for fighting to get an education and access to knowledge; a girl the same age as the teenagers in this survey. In its own way, the UK education system is creating a Western version of the powerless, vulnerable underclass.

I have frequently seen and heard disparaging comments about reading, and books, whether it’s the ‘losers read’ sort of mockery from someone who thinks that life is just about going out and getting drunk with mates, or the ‘you think you’re better than me’ type comment from the person with a chip on his shoulder, or the ‘I don’t need to read, because I already know everything worth knowing’ attitude.

People fear the unknown. That’s where the monsters are. And ignorance breeds fear. What is it that you might have learnt through reading that they don’t know about?
What indeed. You’re not just dependent on the television to tell you what is happening in the world around you. You don’t only hear the views and thoughts of your immediate friends and family. Through reading, you see through the eyes of others; people from very different backgrounds, from other countries, other times; people who hold different values to you. And your eyes are opened to the universe of potential, what could be, what dreams you could aspire to for yourself and for the world.


Which leads me to the issue of ‘childrens books’, and the ‘too grown up’ children.
I love children’s books. I loved them as a child. I love them as an adult.

The Earthsea trilogy, The Dark is Rising series, The Princess and the Goblin, The Phoenix and the Carpet, The Moondial, The Children of Green Knowe, The Secret Garden, The Magic Faraway Tree, Stig of the Dump, The Borrowers, Tom’s Midnight Garden, The Narnia series, Wind in the Willows, Watership Down, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Children of the New Forest, Heidi, The Jungle Book, Moonfleet, The Hobbit……… just to name a few….

They are books filled with beauty, wonder, magic…wisdom… and the keys to the boundless realm of the imagination. It seems to me sad beyond words for a child to ‘grow out’ of these things…ever.
Why would a 10 year old want to be reading about ‘adult’ issues? Money, power, sex, politics…


Pushing a child to discard children’s books, as immature or silly, isn’t as far removed as it might seem, from depriving them of books entirely, through illiteracy. Yes, they still have all those career paths open to them. Yes, they still have access to knowledge. But, to steal the magic from their lives at such an early age, is a cruel thing.


Children’s books lead into adult books anyway. I read adult books when I was 10. But the complexities, sophistry and projection of adult concerns and neuroses, the limited nature of the adult perception of reality, was countered by the infinite wonders in the realms of the children’s books.
In their pages, the most fantastic dreams come true, everything is possible, and the world is so much more than a mundane, grey place of daily grind, disappointed hopes and narrow horizons.

Good children’s books touch truths far greater than most adult books.And with very few exceptions, when I look back on the books I remember best, those which have brought me the most delight, which have most influenced my life, and which have sung loudest to my soul, it has been children’s books.

 

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