WBD: Read on

It’s World Book Day! A day of books. How lovely. Sadly for adults this means that we don’t get to spend the day reading but for children there are events and they get a voucher for a free book. My Twitter feed has been filled with parents panicking over their child’s change of heart on the costume they want to wear tomorrow. My favourite suggestion has been Stig of the Dump, sending them to school in a bin. It’s an idea. E’s nursery isn’t dressing up but she hardly needs any encouragement to read.

One of the most interesting parts of this parenting lark is watching how E’s mind works. Her development, her logic, her problem solving are all fascinating. And of course, in this house, books are a big part of that. Her current favourites are Hairy Maclary SIT!, Charlie and Lola’s Snow is my Favourite and my Best, and Almost an Animal Alphabet.

Two of those have pages where creatures are upside down. To E, whose mind doesn’t yet process upside down-ness except when I fling her about, it is clear that what she must do is turn the book up the other way to make everything right again. And in a way she’s right.

I think I’ve said before how glad I am that E already seems to love reading and books. Of all the things I would want for her, being a good reader is my favourite ambition. Because I know what she’ll gain from it. Speaking as someone who prefers books to most of the people I know (and having several friends and a husband who think the same) I think I can guarantee she won’t ever be lonely and will learn so much. Practically all my knowledge comes from reading novels. (Mariella Frostrup recommended to someone on her problem page in The Observer the other week that they sort themselves out by reading fiction. Just another reason to love Mariella…)

So I was quite interested in a report from America last month where a cultural critic had come out against teaching students novels in schools. She had decided that novels were not the best medium to communicate messages to hormonal teenagers, mainly as she’d hated doing literature in class, and perhaps non fiction would be better.

I know there are LOADS of people who hated the books they were made to read at school, though I wasn’t one of them. Some books I hated at the time but now have a fondness for (Auden) and some were ok at the time and ok now (Antony and Cleopatra) but others I loved then and love now (Pride and Prejudice, Hamlet, Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men). The only books I remember reading and hating from this period came from my own explorations into reading – Great Expectations and The Hobbit. In both cases I gave those up about halfway through and haven’t attempted them again. (I really should re-read Great Expectations, I love Dickens now.)

I guess that if you hate a certain book and have to read it as well as then writing critical essays on it, you’d want to find ways to better the system. But her argument seemed to be against fiction, rather than reading. One thing that I’ve heard about Great Expectations is that it isn’t a book that children should read. My 14 year old self who was sitting down to read that would have scowled at that and yet a bit of me does believe it now. It’s ok to read things later when your understanding is greater. And so I do understand why you’d want to change the curriculum to make things more engaging. But to stop altogether, well that’s madness. (I was a dunce at maths at school. I’m not advocating we stop teaching it just because I’ve managed to get to my great age without doing it.)

Where does that leave the child who prefers reading to socialising? Who is shy and awkward and happy curled up with a book? Even more stigmatised, I imagine. Reading’s a kind of geekdom isn’t it?

With E being named after a character in literature, I’ve been asked what I will do if she hates the book. I bought her a hardback of it for Christmas last year. I’ll be honest – of course I want her to love it and to like the character as much as I do. The same way I want her to love Jane Eyre and Lizzie Bennett and Anne Shirley and Scout and Judy Abbott and Phyllis, Roberta and Peter, and Jo March. But chances are she won’t love all (any?) of those people. So I need to resolve to be ok with that, and to take an interest in what she does love.

Anyway, have a lovely World Book Day.

I am reading: The Sorrows of an American by Siri Hustvedt. I love Hustvedt’s writing, and it struck me while reading this that she’s not tainted by being called a ‘woman writer’. It then struck me that two of the three books of hers I’ve read have male protagonists. I wonder if she’d had women as the main character but kept the plots (intricate emotional studies, often involving families) she’d have been regarded differently? Anyway, I’m enjoying this very much.

E is reading: Maisy Goes Camping by Lucy Cousins. I find Maisy to be one of the most boring children’s characters but E loves her. She’s a strange combination of independence and adventure (Maisy’ Fire Engine, Maisy Drives a Bus etc) with the First Experiences series (Maisy goes to Nursery, Maisy goes on a Sleepover etc). Anyway, we bought E two books this week and this was one – a ‘hilarious’ account of going camping with friends. It bears little resemblance to any camping I’ve done but I suppose ‘Maisy listens to people having sex and stumbling around because they’re too drunk to know where they’re going’ is a bit too hard hitting at this age.

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