Books at bedtime? Don't take it as read, Ed

25th January 2008 at 00:00
Thanks, Ed Balls, for suggesting I read to my offspring every evening. You caused a family row. I did my best but was ejected from the bedrooms of my 21-year-old and my 17-year-old, clutching my precious copy of Where the Wild Things Are. And I have to say, judging by the range of inventive vocabulary they used, I don't think their English language needs further help from me. Or from you.

I'm sure parents will try to follow your advice, though, and perhaps they'll be more successful with younger children who don't spot a minister'sparent's attempt to "improve their prospects" so easily. But if they don't have the routine sorted already, I wonder whether they'll succeed in establishing a new one, however hard they try. Let me outline why, if you'll forgive my presumption as I forgive you yours, Ed.

First, I'm not sure if you watch the soaps - perhaps thinking up initiatives keeps you in the office until late - but they start well before the youngest children are put to bed and don't finish until the pre-teens are tucked up. Until you put pressure on TV executives, you are up against Another Great Power and I think you will lose. I gave Wild Things a quick skim-through the night before I tried it out on my kids, but I was watching Corrie at the time and couldn't concentrate. How do you think parents will focus on what's happening in the Enchanted Forest if they're stuck upstairs, their minds on the Rovers Return?

Second, there's technology. Now, I know you and your colleagues are aware that modern technology is sometimes more of a pain than a blessing (that reminds me, I must check my bank statement), but kids these days don't think so. Many of them have technology in their rooms for their pre-bed entertainment. Perhaps your department should produce an information leaflet for every household entitled "Ten reasons why listening to your parents read to you is more thrilling than playing on a Nintendo DS". (If you need help with the persuasive writing, I've got a worksheet you can borrow.) To save postage, you could delay sending it until you next have to contact us all about who's got our personal details.

Third, have you seen the price of kids' books recently? I went into Waterstone's to see if they did a 3-for-2, but you only get discounts on Do Slugs Have Nipples? and anything by Bill Bryson. So I tried the library. What a revelation! My local library, I find, is now an IT laboratory, DVD rental shop and advice centre for Eastern Europeans. There were a few tatty kids' books written by someone called Grimm - which I think says it all - but that was it.

So, Mr B, I wish you luck with your campaign and all that, but things don't look good. I suppose you could always put more money into the schools and get the kids reading that way, But you're bound to have thought of that one. If not, though, remember you read it here first.

Fran Hill, Teacher at an independent school in London.

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