Discworld 'is a must-read'

16th September 2005 at 01:00
Looking for literature to inspire children? The TES asked ASByatt and other top authors for their ideas. Adam Luck reports.

Resting on four elephants supported by a giant turtle hurtling through space, Discworld appears to be light years away from the learned world of AS Byatt.

But that has not stopped the grande dame of English letters from nominating science-fiction author Terry Pratchett and his imaginary universe as the piece of literature children must read.

AS Byatt's revelatory nomination springs from a TES survey that asked some of Britain's leading literary lights which work of literature the nation's pupils must read.

Andrew Motion, the poet laureate, Jacqueline Wilson, the children's laureate, Michael Morpurgo, her predecessor, and authors Beryl Bainbridge and Philip Pullman were all canvassed.

Their nominations stretch from nursery rhymes to Rudyard Kipling, Siegfried Sassoon to Charles Dickens and even obscure French novelist Jean Giono.

AS Byatt, best-known for her critically-acclaimed works Possession: A Romance and Angels and Insects, has won widespread admiration for the scale of her ambition, ideas and literary allusions.

Perhaps the author is attracted by the scale of Mr Pratchett's universe of fantasy, humour and satire.

"He tells a rattling good story and handles language in a way that gives people like me enormous pleasure but also gets 12-year-old nerds to read," she said.

"Children should read him but no one should know they read him. Almost every child should be told to read him, not in the classroom, but secretly."

For Andrew Motion, well-known for his determination to write about national tragedies and tackle the big issues of the day, Charles Dickens and Great Expectations comes as less of a surprise.

He made his choice "partly because Dickens is Dickens, but partly because the themes are to do with elsewhere, people moving between countries. You could develop this by encouraging children to look at more recent books which have done the same thing."

His choice was mirrored by Jacqueline Wilson, although the children's laureate hedged her bets.

She said: "Any Jane Austen, for the writer's style - so superb. But if I am forced to choose, it would be Dickens for the crackle and vitality and the joy of his own world."

While Mr Motion and Ms Wilson chose novels, Beryl Bainbridge believes that Rudyard Kipling and his fellow poets can best teach children the art of language.

Dame Beryl, whose novels The Dressmaker and Young Adolf centre on wartime themes, nominates Britain's war poets, and Siegfried Sassoon in particular.

She said: "I remember poetry most of all. It was poems that got one going, particularly the old-fashioned ones: Wordsworth, Shakespeare, and Tennyson. I did not understand a word at the time but if you look at them later, you do understand."

Writer Philip Pullman describes several of his shorter stories, including The Firework-Maker's Daughter, as fairy tales, so his nomination is befitting.

"Every child should know nursery rhymes and fairy tales," he said. "They are a necessity. They nourish the emotions as well as the intellect and emotion. They are the bedrock of many other things. Things constantly refer to them.

"Any child who misses out on their Cinderella and Little Bo Beep will be missing out on a great deal of enjoyment."

At first glance, French writer Jean Giono seems an obscure and arcane entry on the list of great works, until you discover who nominated him.

Michael Morpurgo, the distinguished children's writer, sought "the good life" decades ago by setting up a series of farms designed to cater for inner-city children.

M Giono, a First World War veteran, won acclaim for his gentle stories celebrating nature in his native Provence and none more so than The Man Who Planted Trees.

Mr Morpurgo said: "It's a short story that reads like a documentary. It's about a shepherd in the mountains of Provence.

"It's a beautifully observed piece of writing, written by someone who loves and knows the landscape."


What is your choice? Join the debate at www.tes.co.ukstaffroombookclub How should children be taught English in 10 years' time? 14-15 Michael Rosen, opinion 22

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