Abused orphan in mad arsonist sensation

2nd June 1995 at 01:00
The writer of the sub-heading "Young teenage readers have ditched literary classics for sensation" (TES, May 19) has failed to reflect on the content of 1971's 12 most widely-read books. In one, an orphan experiences a ghostly visitation, and is subsequently sent to a school where she is abused and humiliated and where her closest friend dies of a lingering and painful illness.

After years of tribulation she obtains work in an isolated country house, owned by a capricious libertine who keeps a violent mad arsonist in the attic. To continue would be to give away more of the plot of Jane Eyre, which would be a pity for those who have not yet read it. Youthful death is part of the plot of Little Women, Blind Pew taps terrifyingly through the pages of Treasure Island, and surely I am right in remembering that the threat of the knacker's yard hung over Black Beauty? In their different styles, these books are as sensational as the Point Horror titles. Not all the titles, however, are sensational: Good Wives and What Katy Did are domestic dramas like Forever and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole.

The two lists are intended to represent pupils' independent reading. The national curriculum programmes of study for reading for seven to 11-year-olds make clear that children will have opportunities to read, or to listen to their teachers read, books such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Treasure Island and Black Beauty long before the ages of 12 and 13. Reading is more broadly-based than it was in 1971, and includes what the national curriculum calls "modern fiction by significant children's authors". It is disappointing that Peter Benton's survey shows that boys are reading so few books in comparison with girls; and perhaps further research will be able to explain this difference in enthusiasm. In the meantime, however, it is important that older and more experienced readers do not make and communicate the naive judgment that because a text is a literary classic it is boring.

KATE MARRON

County English inspector Hampshire County Council Romsey Road Winchester

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