Unless your computer has been buried in sand for the past two weeks, you can’t help but have seen the furore about Booktrust.
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be another blog about defending book charities; there have been some great ones already. Instead, I’d like to look at one of the accusations that has been levelled at authors who have spoken up during the debate. It has been suggested that authors’ interests in reading programmes is mercenary; that we want children to have access to books in order to line our own pockets.
Not only is that accusation based on a very limited understanding of how much money there is to be made in writing for children (i.e. very little), it completely ignores the fact that writers are also readers. For me, it is my love of books that prompts me to defend them.
It is easy for fluent readers to forget how difficult it is to learn to read. It is also easy for fluent readers to forget that there is a big difference between being able to read and reading for pleasure.
I remember that particular difference well. I grew up in an English-speaking household. However, at the age of 3, I went to a Welsh language school. It was at school that I learned to read. Initially, the text we learned from were brilliant; I read Ifan Bifan and Jac Y Jwc with glee.
And then we moved on to chapter books. Yuck, yuck and thrice yuck. I was forced to wade through a series of dire retellings of dull myths and legends. There was a seemingly unending stream of medieval saints, long-dead kings and other Celtic ephemera that had me sitting at my desk, staring into space willing reading time to be over so that I could do something more fun like chewing off my own leg.
For the first two or three years of being able to read alone, I completely couldn’t see the point of my new skill.
And then, like the Red Sea parting, like Heavenly hosts singing, like angel dust sprinkled on fairy cakes, I was given A Good Book. I was given a copy of James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. It blew me away. Finally, I got it. Finally, I learned that reading was a creative act; by doing it I created whole worlds to lose myself in.
I have never looked back (though I’m afraid I do still look at books of myths and legends with suspicion).
It is that magic that I want to share. It is never obvious which book will ‘switch on’ a reader. Which is why I believe that every child should have easy access to a range of books. Be that from libraries, Booktrust or schools. Because, without that magic many more children will be sitting in classrooms wondering what’s the point?