Thursday, February 02, 2006

Children and Books

The BBC news website reports that the Queen is having an 80th birthday party for children this summer and it is to be on the theme of children's literature. Someone on one of the email discussion lists to which I subscribe wondered who we would invite along to represent children's literature (aside from those who will already be going such as J K Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe), so I suggested the following people:

Cornelia Funke for The Thief Lord and Dragon Rider; Kate Di Camillo for Because of Winn-Dixie; Diana Wynne Jones for everything, especially Fire and Hemlock; Alan Garner for everything; Neil Gaiman for Coraline and Good Omens; Terry Pratchett for Good Omens, The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky and Johnny and the Bomb; Nancy Farmer for The Sea of Trolls; Ursula Le Guin for A Wizard of Earthsea; Anthony Horowitz for 'Alex Rider'; Johnny Depp as J M Barrie (Finding Neverland); Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd as the Hobbits and Ian McKellan as Gandalf (The Lord of the Rings); Pam Ferris as Mrs Trunchball (Matilda); Keisha Castle-Hughes as Pai (Whale Rider) and finally Joss Whedon for creating 'Buffy' and Anthony Stewart Head as Giles (as we've got to have at least one librarian there !)

* * * * * *

Much discussion has ensued in various places regarding those RSL lists created by Andrew Motion, Philip Pullman, J K Rowling, et. al. This led me to compile my own lists; my list for older readers would include:

Fire and Hemlock - Diana Wynne Jones
Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
Richard II - Shakespeare
The Sea of Trolls - Nancy Farmer
The Lord of the Rings - J R R Tolkien
The White Darkness - Geraldine McCaughrean
His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J K Rowling
Johnny and the Bomb - Terry Pratchett
A selection of poems from World War One

I know the Pratchett is aimed more at younger readers, but I think it's a very important and interesting book, and would go well with the poetry of the First World War.

For younger readers I would recommend:

A Dog So Small - Philippa Pearce
The Phantom Tollbooth - Norton Juster
The Hobbit - J R R Tolkien
Because of Winn-Dixie - Kate Di Camillo
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
A Hat Full of Sky - Terry Pratchett
Eight Days of Luke/Dogsbody - Diana Wynne Jones
Dragon Rider - Cornelia Funke
The Scarecrow and His Servant - Philip Pullman
Roald Dahl: Songs and Verse - ed. Quentin Blake

I thought both lists should have some poetry in them to encourage children to enjoy it early and hopefully to get them interested in language. Both lists have only a few "classic" stories in them, and that's a deliberate choice on my part - I selected books that I thought would lead the readers into other areas of interest (Norse Myth, Geography and History to name but three). I also selected books which I thought children would enjoy reading - I realise this might be a radical notion to some of our government advisors (and probably to Andrew Motion as well !), but the whole point of my lists is that the books should encourage children to find pleasure in reading so that they'll go on reading after they leave school. My lists are about making lifelong readers. I know full well there are some children in this world who won't become lifelong readers, because there are some adults who do not read much. However, if children are not encouraged to become lifelong readers, if they are in fact discouraged from reading by the soulless reading exercises that are demanded of them by teachers in literacy sessions, then they don't have a chance of learning to love books.

Oh and I suggested Eight Days of Luke as well as Dogsbody in case any boys refuse to read about a girl, or vice versa !


Anonymous said...

Michele, I like your lists. Your mention of Richard II reminded me of one of my favorite passages from Shakespeare, which I just "borrowed" from Wikipedia:

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England...

Kelly said...

Your lists rock, Michele!

They are both geared to inspiring new readers, rather than turning them off from reading altogether. Great work. (And, I think someone should hire you as a consultant for some big money.)

Michele said...

Susan - yes I raved about that a few weeks ago in my "Lovely Language" post (actually it's probably at least a couple of months ago, now I think about it !)

Kelly - I wish ! It would be lovely to earn "big money"... Seriously though, I'm glad you liked my lists - that was exactly my plan, encourage children to fall in love with reading and also to explore other things, eg. the South Pole and the story of reaching it, history of both wars or Dickens' period, the loveliness of language, the Norse myths, etc. That's how I read - fiction often sends me off after non-fiction, and one book will often inspire me to read a whole shelf full of others... I realise not every child is going to be like me in that respect, but I don't think it hurts to encourage them that way.

Anonymous said...

Michele, I like your suggested reading lists a lot, but I also like your suggested invite list for the Queen's birthday party. What I'm really trying to figure out is how I can get invited to that myself ;-)! Thanks!

Michele said...

I think a lot of us who are children's literature fans are wondering that ! If I find out, I'll let you know... (Hmm, steward perhaps ?)