They actively negotiate their world through language. Their reading establishes an intellectual template. Spelling conventions, grammar, the rhythms of language and, more importantly, empathy, creativity and imagination are absorbed through an act of pleasure. Put simply, stare at the box too long and you'll have a brain the size of a pea! The child whose story is a string of "and thens" got his "Andthenitis" from Hollywood.
So what's to be done? For starters, let's give the parents a glossy brochure asking them to set aside an hour a day. Everybody in the family would read. You can't be a role model if you don't do it too.
Which brings me on to teachers. Do the children in our classes know what we read? In every classroom in the UK there should be a child's book of the week and a teacher's book of the week prominently displayed.
If any of you is tempted to whimper "I haven't got time," stop doing one of those useless bureaucratic tasks and read a book instead. It is the most important thing an educator can do. Put that in the school development plan and smoke it!
Finally, let's create a post of reading development officer. Their job is to read books and recommend real books to real kids according to their interests.
Johnny's action-mad? Give him a Bob Swindells, an Anthony Horowitz, or a Keith Gray. Jenny's into relationships? It is Wilson and Rennison for you, my girl. Every ounce of effort expended getting children to read will be repaid many times over. Go on, you've nothing to lose but your square eyes!
Alan Gibbons is a teacher andchildren's author