Doing It For The Kids
The Royal Society of Literature asked a bunch of luminaries (I think that means hacks, Philip Pullman excepted) to come up with a recommended reading list for school children. The definition of "school children" seems to include everybody from kindergarten kids through to doctoral students, and when they are not completely unrealistic (Ulysses? Don Quixote?) the selections tend to be rather quaint and predictable, which I suppose is what you get when you ask a bunch of middle-aged white people anything.
The other problem is that, in this country at least, studying literature at any level is about as much fun as watching an eight-day chess tournament between a Commodore 64 and a dead sheep. I hated every book I was forced to read at school, and I continue to hate every book I am forced to read for university, despite spending most of my non-studying life thinking about books (when I am not thinking about music, sport, or sex of course). You can't just throw "classics" at kids and hope they'll stick. You have to show them how interesting and amusing and (damn it) entertaining literature can be, and if that means they'd rather read The Hobbit than Ulysses, then so be it. Allow a sense of possibility, that nothing is beyond their possible scope, and they may well get to Ulysses one day. Or they may find they prefer the Upfield/Broadmeadows timetable.
Anyway, if we must go around recommending books, I don't see why Andrew "Bowel" Motion and J.K. Whatever should have all the fun. What books do you recommend for the young 'uns? When selecting books for my own daughter I favour formulaic Saddleclub adventures and the early works of Irvine Welsh, but I am open to suggestions. As for myself, I grew up on a steady diet of Asterix, Biggles and James Bond, and I won't hear a word against these books because, to quote poet laureate Andrew "Newton's Three Laws Of" Motion, "that way cultural vandalism lies".