Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Not rude or funny?

In the bookshop yesterday afternoon I heard one of those conversations between a bookseller and a customer which must make a bookseller, all writers and publishers want to weep.
"I want a book book for my nephew for his birthday."
"Oh, how old is he?"
"II don't know how old he is but I think he's about six."
"And he likes reading?"
"No he doesn't like to read much but his mother said to get him a book but nothing rude or has to be something he can learn something from."
Oh right. Perhaps that is one reason why the child "doesn't like to read much".
I have noticed, and so has the bookshop staff, an increasing tendency for some ambitious parents to "encourage" their children to read only non-fiction. The library staff I have spoken to have also noticed this. There seems to be an attitude which says, "Don't waste your time reading fiction. If you want to read then read to learn something."
It is not quite, "Why are you wasting time reading a book when you could be doing something?" but it is not much better than that.
If you want to read non-fiction - and most children do at least some of the time - then that is fine. If you have to read it and are discouraged from reading anything else then you may soon get the message that reading is "work" and not for pleasure. Reading will be seen as something you "must" do rather than also choose to do.
Children get little enough time for reading as it is - apart from what they read on the screen of their computer, i-pad, e-reader, phone and other such devices. That is often not seen as "reading" anyway.
The Whirlwind is given time to read at school. The boarders are all expected to have a fiction book and the very last part of the day is their "book before bedtime" reading. She reads at other times too but she tells me there are day girls even in her school who "do not read much" at home. They are too busy with extra-curricula activities.
I wondered how many out-of-school activities the young nephew is expected to participate in.
It seems one of the unintended consequences of the perceived need to supervise and occupy children at all times has been to reduce the amount of reading some of them do for pleasure. I might be wrong but observation really does suggest there is less time for reading, especially reading for pleasure - and some have lost sight of how much it is possible to learn from fiction.
The young man buying a book for his nephew went away with a politically correct book about the environment. It might get read but the bookseller and I both agreed that the "rude and funny" book about the body was a great deal more (harmless) fun.


Sue Bursztynski said...

In my own experience as a teacher-librarian, quite often it's the other way around: the child wants to read a book about cars or a history of toilets or true ghost stories and the teacher tells them to put that book down NOW and get a novel! As the author of a lot of children's non-fiction books for entertainment I was sometimes able to persuade the teacher to let them read books of that kind; the attitude of adults is,"If it's not fiction it's not a real book" or a grudging,"Oh, well, at least he's reading."( But he SHOULD be reading a novel." ) My school now does a program which involves about fifteen minutes of silent reading at the end of the literacy lesson and every basket of books, usually chosen by the kids, has several non-fiction books in it.
I do agree that the PC book on the environment would be unlikely to engage the child, unless it had a chapter on the important role of poo in fertilising a garden.;-)

Anonymous said...

Interesting Sue because, in the library where I work, I would say the opposite is true. Parents want their kids to read non-fiction - even those who are regulars. Non-fiction jumps off the shelves but we have to push fiction and give them a reason to read it. Even some ofthe kids believe that reading fiction is a waste of precious reading time. They rush in on their way to football or netball or some other "ball" and borrow things for school projects. There's no time in their lives for fiction! It's sad. Ros

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hmm, sounds as if you work in a public library, where you have to deal with the parents as well as the kids. And from your description of the kids who grab a book to help with homework on their way to sport, they don't read at all, unless they have to. They regard fiction as a waste of time, not just their parents? Perhaps you might engage them more with non fiction for entertainment, such as Allen and Unwin's "It's True!" series. This series is, unfortunately, now available only as POD because of the attitude that if it isn't fiction it isn't a real book or worth reading. But you could look them up online and order through your bookseller. Just saying. My first book, on monsters, earned back its advance in three months. My It's True book on spies sold 6000 copies before A&U stopped publishing the series, with none left to remainder or for me to buy out, and of the 6000 copies, 4000 were sold through Book Club, which didn't earn me much, but told me that, left to themselves, kids may just choose non-fiction if it's a subject that interests them.

Anonymous said...


I am the boring Nan/Aunt who buys books for the under twenties in the family ... and I have great delight in buying the not quite correct books! I am going to introduce the grandson to Terry Pratchett's 'The World of Poo this year, but not before I read it to make sure it is suitable!

Other poo books were given to farmer's sons ... which I think were natural choices for those who earn pocket money cleaning out the under floor area of the shearing shed.

Judy B