Wednesday, February 01, 2006

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".


At 3:38 PM, Blogger JPW said...

Remember 'Blue Fin'?

I grew up on Blyton, Fighting Fantasy, and comic books. I came out all right.

Recently, I find that I have subconsciously been selecting books that I will hand to my hypothetical son or daughter to read when they are of appropriate ages. So far I've got 'Hatchet' by Gary Paulsen for when they're young, and then I guess I can move them on to Donaldson's 'Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever' books. Yeah, that'll do.

At 3:40 PM, Blogger TimT said...

I recommend you start your kid off on A Dictionary of Accounting. Life is both boring and incomprehensible to everyone who experiences it, so you might as well start her off young.

At 3:40 PM, Blogger JPW said...

And if I can find a hardcover edition I could use it for slamming down on her soft little finger-bones whenever she puts her elbows on the table and starts giving me lip.

At 4:56 PM, Blogger Lucy Tartan said...

how about "The Very Hungry Caterpillar"?

At 5:02 PM, Blogger Tim said...

We studied that in Year 12 and I still only got a C!

At 5:52 PM, Blogger JPW said...

We could never afford 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' at our school so I just got an old magazine about grasshoppers and cut holes in it.

We also used to eat pavlova straight from the little plastic egg.

At 9:16 PM, Blogger russ said...

I have a theory about tv programs, that the successful ones (like say Seinfeld, or the Simpsons) start by being full of humour or action, and wait a few episodes or seasons before trying satire, character development and in-jokes. Books are the same, except that as you read more you learn to be patient, because you know there is a reward at the end (except, as I now understand, in Joyce, where the reward seems to be the back cover).

But that makes things harder still, because what I found funny at 10, was juvenile by 14, and neither were worth admitting to by 18 (except Asterix which was always funny but for different reasons). Perhaps it doesn't matter what kids read, as long as they do. Though if I was 14 again, I'd like someone to lend me Three Men in a Boat and The Tramp Abroad to try and wean me off all that fantasy I was reading at the time.

At 9:37 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Yes, part of the problem is that the classics as taught tend to make literature appear forbidding rather than inviting. Imagine being faced with "Don Quixote" or "Portrait of a Lady" at age 15. I would have done what I did with all the other books they foisted upon me: read the first page and the last page and some random pages in between, then gone to the library for the Cliff's Notes. Yet there are so many books that are great fun to read, while also being great literature and thus ever-so-studyable, Twain and Jerome being too very good examples. The lists mentioned in this post are simply lacking imagination.


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