What constitutes ‘appropriate reading’ is a bit of a hobby horse of mine. In my experience, whether it is in the playground or the library, whenever an adult prescribes play or reading for a child, invariably the child will want to do something completely different! And I suspect that that has been going on since time immemorial.
So it with was with a mixture of shock and disappointment that I read an email from the dad of one of our Hummingbirds. Des had sent me a link to an article in the Irish Times about a headmaster in a prominent UK school who ‘announced that authors such as our own Eoin Colfer and Derek Landy and others including Rick Riordan and Anthony Horowitz were “so simplistic, brutal or banal” that the children should not be exposed to them on school grounds.’
I love Eoin Colfer’s books, especially the Artemis Fowl series. Many of our hummingbirds devour the Skulduggery Pleasant books by Derek Landy. I get such a kick out of watching their faces when I tell them that Darren Shan, who wrote Cirque Du Freak & Zom-B, is one of our own from Limerick! Rick Riordan from San Antonio Texas (but surely has Irish roots!) came up with the idea for the Percy Jackson series as bedtime stories about ancient Greek heroes for his son Haley. Haley had been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, inspiring Riordan to make Percy Jackson ADHD/dyslexic. Our hummingbirds, who do ADHD and/or dyslexia, loved the fact that Percy didn’t make a big deal of being dyslexic / ADHD. It was simply part of who he was and then they got on with the story.
Nowadays books have to compete with the likes of You Tube, Netflix and Snapchat. Even conventional TV is losing out to these new kids on the block. So a story really has to resonate with children in order to entice a child to leave the screen and create their own internal movie by reading a book. Of course there is a place for the classics. I love Jane Austen but despite my parents buying us a set of the classic novels when we were young, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island or Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities never caught my imagination. Enid Blyton was a firm favourite but while I loved The Famous Five, I had no time for The Secret Seven. Anything to do with Midnight Feasts in boarding school – I was transfixed by it, so much so that when my cousins and I had sleep overs we always had some kind of a midnight feast, although I don’t think we ever managed to stay awake until midnight.
My point is that my favourite childhood books were ones that in some way were relevant to me. My mum had been to boarding school so it seemed magical to me. While I’m certain that an Irish catholic girls boarding school & the ‘jolly hockey sticks’ school portrayed by Enid Blyton were poles apart, the Enid Blyton version was all that was available to us. My dad hated me reading those books but nobody was really writing for contemporary Irish childhoods in the seventies and eighties. It wasn’t until The Commitments was published that things began to change and I’m pretty certain that book wouldn’t be on the UK Headmaster’s ‘Good Book List’!
Ok, so thankfully zombies aren’t exactly contemporary Irish life right now, but we have a history of superb horror writers in Ireland. Darren Shan is a continuation of that rich literary heritage. Eoin Colfer mixes modern life with our vernacular history of storytelling, crafting new tales that draw on our myths & legends. Fantasy is a wonderful escape and for some children an excellent way to make sense of the world around them.
Reading shouldn’t be just for educational purposes, especially for children. I think that is the fastest way to kill off reading! Teachers and parents dictating what children should read for pleasure kind of defeats the purpose. Kids will read what they want to read and that is what we need to encourage. Once they love to read, they will find the classics – after all that’s what makes them classics!
Hummingbird Learning Centre Adare & Tralee 087 2996054 www.hummingbirdlearning.com