When I visit primary schools, I often start by asking, ‘Why do we read?’ It’s hardly an earth-shattering question, I know, but you can always rely on children to come up with interesting responses. In amongst ‘you can learn new words’ and ‘it makes you smarter’, there are usually suggestions about information, imagination, and, eventually, fun. I guess fun is the answer that I’m looking for, but what I’m really trying to show the children is the range of answers, both for why we read, and also for what we read. Variety is the spice of life, and, for me, one of the greatest joys of reading. As someone sage once said, ‘If you don’t like to read, you just haven’t found the right book.’
Choice is particularly important when we talk about reading for pleasure. If we want to foster that genuine enthusiasm and engagement, we need books that together speak to every single child, no matter their background, age or interests. I’m no expert but it feels like we’re now moving in the right direction. I see children’s literature expanding outwards like the vines on an old house.
Publisher ‘Knights Of’, for example, are doing amazing work to promote diversity in the world of fiction. If you haven’t checked out their titles online, or at their bookshop in Brixton, then you really should. And then there’s my area, non-fiction. Growing up in the 90s, children’s non-fiction for me meant Horrible Histories, Dorling Kindersley and the Guinness Book of Records.
Now, it means beautiful books about everything from astronomy to zoology, and engaging life stories of everyone from Alan Turing to Zaha Hadid. Now, who wouldn’t want to read those for pleasure?
There’s still scope for ingenious new ideas, too. Take the recent ‘Roy of the Rovers’ project, for example, where one book was published as a traditional novel and the other as a graphic novel. That kind of cross-formatting can really benefit reluctant readers. Books can be enjoyed by turning a page, scrolling a tablet screen, or even streaming an audio version. And that’s just books. There are so many other ways to read: magazines, newspapers, comics, websites.
I think the challenge now is making the most of all that variety. With so much choice at their fingertips, where does a child start their reading journey? That’s where all the teachers, librarians, authors, book bloggers, parents and guardians of the world unite. I wouldn’t be a reader or a writer today if it wasn’t for those people, and I still see them at every school I visit. They’re the ‘enthusiasts’ that Roald Dahl urged us all to be, who understand the importance of reading and ‘hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.’
So, I might be a bit biased, but to me, the future of children’s reading looks more exciting than ever.
Matt Oldfield writes the Ultimate Football Heroes and Classic Football Heroes series (John Blake Publishing) with his brother Tom. These fun, action-packed biographies are perfect for football-mad kids aged 7-12. The books tell the life-stories of the biggest and best footballers in the world, including Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar, and their incredible journeys from childhood fan to superstar professional player. Matt also works with schools and organisations such as the National Literacy Trust and the National Football Museum to deliver football-based literacy workshops.