Books boss turns to comics
the publisher behind such hits as the Goosebumps series and His Dark Materials Trilogy is working on a project aimed at getting primary children excited about reading.
David Fickling plans to launch The DFC next year, using a range of British writers and artists. The 54-year-old hopes teachers will draw pupils' attention to the comic. He promised it would not contain adverts, would be pocket-money priced, and would be different from British comics of the past, such as The Eagle, as well as the television tie-ins that dominate today's children's magazine market.
"It's the most exciting thing I've ever done," said Mr Fickling, whose Oxford office is stacked floor to ceiling with books. "What I realised is we can transmit the excitement kids get from Hollywood into a form they can read."
But teachers have had a love-hate relationship with the Goosebumps series, which some consider too trashy. Mr Fickling said he had been contacted by an upset parent after her son was summoned to the headteacher for bringing one of the "unsuitable" books into class.
"I told her that if it was her son's favourite book that was marvellous," he said.
Mr Fickling, who also publishes Mark Haddon's books, said he was concerned that children's enjoyment of reading had diminished.
The 2001 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study of 35 countries found that 13 per cent of children in England disliked reading more than twice as many as elsewhere despite being ranked third best at it.
Mr Fickling acknowledged that "achievement and enjoyment" were both aims of the Every Child Matters strategy. But said: "As soon as you turn enjoyment into a requirement, it stops being enjoyable."
However, he still felt teachers could play a crucial role. "I'm not a teacher," he said. "I'm not trying to rule on education policy. I just try to publish stories that children will enjoy. But how can they find those stories? In the classroom. That's why it is vital that teachers tell stories and are good at it.
"Good teachers have the ability to recognise good stories. What they mustn't do is say 'I'll tell you a story, then you must answer 10 questions on it.'"
Around seven stories will be included in each issue of The DFC. Details remain secret, but sample pages on Mr Hickling's wall reveal sci-fi and detective stories. But why comics when he could be sticking to Carnegie prize-winning books?
Mr Fickling said: "When I was about seven, I had a comic The Human Bullet. He was sent to investigate a strange jungle planet where people were being killed.
"I still remember the tremendous excitement of waiting for the next edition and then, when it arrived, the fact that it was mine. Mine and nobody else's."
Put the fun back, page 27