What keeps me awake at night - It's as though they just don't care

2nd March 2012 at 00:00

As a teacher, teacher trainer and author of work packs and books for teachers, I am sometimes asked to review new products or literature for use in schools. Some time ago, I was sent nine books for key stage 2 readers. Within half an hour I felt a mixture of anger, frustration and despair.

I began with three fictional stories. In the first, which had won an award, I found the sentence "He looked like he had been dragged through a hedge by his tail." In the second, "He set off running round the room, holding her up like she was flying." In the third, "I made sure that I looked like I was thinking."

Why do authors and editors let themselves down and undermine teachers' work, if not with spelling or other errors ("bored of", "different to" - the Harry Potter books are frequent offenders) then with this maddening, ignorant misuse of the word "like" when they should use "as if" or "as though"?

I'm afraid that, for me, one such flaw cheapens the whole book, like a plastic jewel in an otherwise genuine necklace, and my opinion of the author plummets. Even the much- criticised Enid Blyton used correct grammar.

Pressing on with the next book, I read "I've spent five years ... pissed off and screwed up" and then examined a paperback containing three stories. The first was entitled Pants and the third Poop. Seeing a picture of pirates, I hoped that the author was going to call our bluff and that "poop" might refer to the deck of a ship. But no, it was about children throwing dog poo (graphically illustrated) into a public swimming pool.

Why do so many authors feel that children have to be given stories about farting, nose-picking, pants and poo, as if these are the only subjects that will encourage them to read?

Don't they deserve better than this wearying, shallow, belly-laugh, "in yer face" rubbish? Even a fascinating science resource about owls is packaged in garish cartoon covers in bookshops under the title Owl Puke.

Roald Dahl pushed the boundaries by introducing innocently rude words such as "knickers" and "bottom"; the difference is that he knew when to stop.

Finally, I turned to four new versions of classics: Peter Pan, The Arabian Nights, traditional Celtic tales and The Snow Goose. Their illustrations had grace and taste, and their language beauty. They were books with dignity, books that invited respect. I wonder how many of the first five I mentioned will be loved and read in 100 years' time.

I cherish the memory of my pupils' rapt faces as I read Swallows and Amazons or The Secret Garden, and no, I don't think I am a pedantic fuddy-duddy who only likes old classics. I revere and crave finely crafted, witty, worthy literature of any period because, for me, nothing less will do for our children.

The writer, Jane Bower, is an arts advisory teacher and a tutor at the University of Cambridge's Faculty of Education. To tell us what keeps you awake at night, email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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