Tag Archives: Books

Children’s Stories Need a Little Darkness

In recent years many theories have been offered to explain the increasing gap in literacy skills between girls and boys. One of the more interesting ones is that, as time has gone on, children’s books have become more and more cautious about being child- friendly. In other words the scary bits are being eliminated and boys are less attracted to reading as a result. I firmly believe that children’s stories need a little darkness, not just to encourage boys to read, but girls also, and to teach our children some important life lessons.

When I was a child I was terrorised by the idea of Little Rabbit Foo Foo being turned into a goonie. I tried to avoid being forced to bathe for a month after reading Roald Dahl’s The Witches. Even the family-friendly chant We’re Going on a Bear Hunt culminates in the family running for their lives after their search turns out to be successful.

The darker elements of these books scared me… but they also enticed me. I begged my parents to read me my favourite twisted tales. As I got older I would read well past my bedtime, unable to put books down, especially at the scary parts.

Books are there to entertain, but also, most of the time, to translate real life lessons to children. Little Rabbit Foo Foo taught me from not to be mean to others because it would come back to you. The Witches taught me not to trust strangers and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt taught me to… er… not hunt bears? You get the point.

By forcing sugar, spice and all things nice down the throats of children, we may not only be diminishing their interest in books, particularly boys, but also neglecting to teach them some pretty important lessons through fantasy that they will inevitably come across in reality. When they do they will not be cushioned by the stories they were told as a child.

Stories don’t just teach us that evil exists but that it can be defeated. Without that lesson, the ‘badness’ we are attempting to protect our children from may become undefeatable.

-Claire Flynn

-Image courtesy of Manchester City Library (https://www.flickr.com/photos/manchesterlibrary/)

Nationalism and Diversity is Needed in our Reading

I’m going to go against the grain here and say I can, to an extent, understand Michael Gove’s recent encouragement for the GCSE syllabus to focus more on English novels, despite the abuse he has received for the action. Growing up in Edinburgh, I was always a little annoyed at the fact we got very few Scottish texts despite the plethora of excellent Scottish authors out there. We got Tennessee Williams, J. D. Salinger and Seamus Heaney but rarely Robert Louis Stevenson, Liz Lochhead or Lewis Grassic Gibbon. I wound up doing my Advanced Higher dissertation on William McIlvanney and I chose Scottish Literature over English Literature in my first year of University, feeling that my studies had otherwise been absent of a nationalist influence.

So if there is a consensus that teenagers in England are not reading enough English literature then it makes sense to alter the syllabus to focus on English authors, poets and playwrights, right?

The problem is, along with everyone else, including Meera Syal, one of the new English authors on the syllabus, I do find the exclusion of certain American authors strange and rather hard to comprehend. While I always felt a bit miffed at the lack of Scottish texts used in my school, it did not stop be from being devastated by the demise of the delicate Blanche Dubois in Tennessee Williams’ To Kill A Mockingbird, touched by the journey of the lost Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye and falling in love with the noble ideals of Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird.

These varied texts were so important in my teenage years, that I cannot imagine school kids going through high school without reading them, particularly those interested in studying literature to a higher level.

While I understand the desire for nationalism in syllabuses, there is also a need for diversity in our reading, especially in our younger years. We should offer our children and teenagers a variety of literature from different authors with different backgrounds, to afford them the same pleasures we had from reading our favourite books for the first time.

-Claire Flynn

-Image courtesy of Netzanette (https://www.flickr.com/photos/netzanette/)

Dads, Please Read to Your Kids

I have just finished a degree at the University of Glasgow in History and Politics. I am an aspiring journalist, having just finished my time as editor-in-chief of a student magazine. I also recently completed an internship for a company that develops literacy programmes for nurseries.

If you haven’t already guessed my passion in life is reading and writing. I still regard this passion of mine as being down to my dad. One day he arrived home from a business trip with a book entitled ‘When I Was Little’, and at bedtime he read it to me. He did this every night for a few weeks, but with subtle changes. He got me to read it with him, we spelt the words and even acted out the story in my room. It wasn’t long before I was able to read it myself but I was having so much fun I decided to pretend I still couldn’t read, so that our bedtime story sessions would continue. He clocked me pretty quickly (subtlety isn’t a particularly common trait in three-year-olds) and our formal reading lessons were over.

However, when one door closes another opens so we began to read as a family, with my sisters and I viewing every new story as an adventure, making obstacle courses in our hallway, pretending to be princesses, witches and explorers with our beds invariably acting as castles, caves or temples. Every new book given to us brought new settings, characters and words to devour.

In my time researching for my recent internship, however, I have discovered the heart-breaking fact that, as time goes on, it seems fathers are less and less interested in reading to their children. Book Trust’s national survey last year showed that only 19 percent of 19 to 24-year-olds enjoyed reading to their children compared to 78 percent of over-55s. It seems that the notion of dads reading to their kids is fast falling out of fashion. Despite the overall increase in men taking part in child-related activities, mothers are still more likely to engage in reading and writing with their children.

In recent years it has also become increasingly apparent that early years education is vital for a child’s skills in the future, and, as well as nurseries and childcare centres, both parents are an integral part of that. Furthermore, studies have shown that children can benefit specifically from a male role model when it comes to reading and writing. Boys, in particular, are more likely to be interested in reading if their dads are. With the gender gap still persisting in literacy skills, and an increasing lack of interest in reading and writing generally, it is becoming more important for fathers to make the effort to read to their kids.

It should not, however, just be seen as a chore or something you must do in order to ensure your child is better at school or more employable in the future. It should be seen as the chance to open doors into untold realms containing heroes and villains, great battles and beautiful balls. It should be the chance to watch what happens when you light the fire of a child’s imagination. It should be the chance to get to know your son or daughter.

So next bedtime, enlist the help of Julia Donaldson, Dr. Seuss, Roald Dahl or any other of the many brilliant children’s authors, to go on a journey with your child to unknown kingdoms. They are adventures they will remember forever- trust me on that one.

-Claire Flynn

-Image courtesy of H is for Home (https://www.flickr.com/photos/h_is_for_home/)