I’m a bookseller as well as an author, and most weeks, I get a quiet, slightly desperate parent with a sad/resentful child in tow, looking for books. Quite often those children are diagnosed dyslexic, quite often they’re not. They may just be children who don’t much like reading, or they may be children who genuinely struggle with print.
Either way, I will show them our growing shelves of graphic novels and also wonderful books published by Barrington Stoke. Hopefully, they’ll find something they enjoy and go away happy, and come back for more. But the single greatest selling point is if I point out that I’m an author now, but I learned to read with graphic novels and that I still read them. And I enjoy reading the Barrington Stoke books BECAUSE THEY’RE REALLY GOOD STORIES.
A minute later, and I’ll have the parents of a “Child genius” who is ready, aged six to move on to Jane Eyre. Good for them – if they think the child will enjoy it. Understand it.
But it occurs to me more and more that there’s an unnecessary division between the children who read the “long books” and the children who read” easy books”. Genius aside, parents of very able children veer towards meaty classics and books with 300+ pages. But why not let those children enjoy the brilliance of Barrington Stoke and Tintin? Why not buy Tanya Landman’s superb Jane Eyre? Or Catherine Johnson’s Race to the Frozen North? Or Carnegie winning Lark by Anthony McGowan.
The mindset that says that these brilliant books are for less able readers, denies better readers the pleasure of great stories AND more importantly, it draws an invisible line through the classroom. Tragically, my own daughter was not allowed to read Simpson comics during library sessions in Secondary School – and she rejected Barrington Stoke books because they marked her out as less able amongst her friends. I think both of these hampered her reading development even more than profound dyslexia already does. I grew up in a world of my brother’s DC comics – I was lucky, but judging what children should read according to their age and ability just pops them all in neat little boxes which are really hard to break out of.
Had my daughter had a classroom of mixed books, long, short, pictures, no pictures – no ratings no bandings – she might have felt able to explore. She did at home – and she still has a formidable collection of precious graphic novels that travel to uni with her – but the classroom, and the library, filled her with fear. And so she refused to even try.
So teachers, librarians, parents – please fill your shelves with books that we, the less able embrace, and mix them up with the other books. Make them more than a minority of the volumes on show. Encourage the advanced readers to sample a great Barrington Stoke book, or the genius of Asterix. So what if they move laterally for a while, away from books with advanced vocabulary? So what if they look at the pictures? They might be destined to be a great illustrator – you might be feeding that part of their heads. Whatever they read, their minds will still grow and learn from words passing through, ideas will still pop because of something they read.
Do it for both sides of the invisible line. It will give us more space in our box, and you’ll give the able more space in theirs.