A reader is a reader, no matter how small

5th February 2016 at 13:00
Ann Mroz
It's high time youngsters were given a voice about the literature they enjoy – that's why TES is giving pupils a platform to review children's books

We know that for children (and for adults) reading is important, that words have power to unlock the mysteries of life and take you on a journey of discovery. “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go,” wrote the inimitable Dr Seuss.

And great stories can move you. Or stop you in your tracks, as Communards pop star-turned-priest the Rev Richard Coles found recently. “Woman is reading a story to her small son on the Tube and I am now resigned to missing my stop so I find out what happens to the hedgehog,” he tweeted.

But despite their spellbinding appeal, children’s books are often dismissed as just something for the kiddies, when quite a lot of them are extraordinarily well written; Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy being an obvious example. And this year, a children’s book, Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree, won the Costa prize.

Although books have always played a big part in children’s lives, their role has diminished in recent times. Technological distractions are often blamed, but for Frank Furedi, sociologist and author of The Power of Reading, the real problem is a loss of cultural affirmation for the love of reading.

Children’s author SF Said would no doubt agree. His research over a month last summer found that despite accounting for 30 per cent of the total UK market, children’s books get just 3 per cent of review space in newspapers. This week, he launched a campaign to encourage publications to give more space to reviews of children’s literature: #CoverKidsBooks.

We are happy to oblige. TES has had an illustrious history of covering children’s books and we have always been keen to also include the views of teachers, as evidenced by last year’s 100 Books Pupils Should Read before Leaving Primary School and 100 Books Students should Read Before Leaving Secondary School features.

However, we should confess to one unenviable claim to fame. One of our editors was sent a proof copy of the very first Harry Potter book but saw no literary merit in it, chose not to commission a review, and gave it away. To compound the misery of being so totally wrong, she found that several years later, proof copies of the book were selling for thousands on eBay.

Children’s books such as Harry Potter are nearly always reviewed by adults, who sometimes provide the delivery, but who are not the ultimate consumer. Why shouldn’t we hear from the very people the books are written for: the children? This is one area where surely all can agree that pupil voice should be a welcome addition to the debate.

So this week we launch reviews by young people, with a little help from their teachers. Our first choice, What Pet Should I Get?, is from that all-time favourite Dr Seuss and is reviewed by Alice Edgington’s class of Year 2s at St Stephen’s Infant School in Canterbury, Kent.

While the late genius is hardly likely to see his sales affected by this review, we genuinely hope that authors and publishers will be forced to take note of the views of the readers – the ultimate target market – over the coming months.

After all, for all the positive reviews no doubt received by Roald Dahl in 1962, do you think The BFG would still be flying out of the bookshops 54 years later if successive generations of children themselves didn’t fall in love with such a wonderful creation?

Little people have big opinions. Let’s hear them.

Ann Mroz is digital publishing director and editor at TES. She tweets as​ @AnnMroz

This article is from the 5 February issue of TES. Pick up a copy of this week's TES magazine from any good newsagent. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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