This guest blog is from Children’s author Ian C Douglas who is working with educational charity Achievement For All to help encourage reading in young ‘uns.
Right now, I’m having a nervous breakdown. In less than two weeks we’re launching my children’s novel Gravity’s Eye. This means I have to pencil in huge amounts of time for panicking, shrieking and nail-biting.
No, I’m kidding. Half kidding. But what do writers do when not opening rejection letters? Are we locked away in our attics scribbling? Lost on imaginary journeys with power-crazed robots and slithering aliens. If only! Time spent in my fictional universe is a rare treat. But why would a writer take time out from his precious jottings?
As a children’s author, I get to take my one-man-show to schools. Kids are a great audience. And currently, I’m collaborating with the educational charity Achievement For All. They’re part of the ‘Read On, Get On‘ scheme which, like Dawn of the Unread, highlight some alarming statistics, namely that a quarter of all primary children in the UK cannot read adequately. The percentage goes up among the poorer. This will cause problems in the future, not just for them, but for everyone.
So the ‘Read On Get On‘ goal is ‘for all 11-year-olds to be reading well by 2025.’
Apparently, boys are particularly disadvantaged. This reminds me of a famous literary agent I heard say ‘writing for children is writing for girls. There’s no money in boys.’ As a father of sons and an ex-boy myself, I was scandalised. Then, someone asked what kind of genres she didn’t want to see. “Darlings, none of that ghastly science fiction, please!”
But boys love sci-fi. Can we complain boys won’t pick up books if we don’t give them anything to read? How middle class writers bellyached over Frank Lampard putting out football books for boys. How very dare he! Wait, what subject is dear to many boys’ hearts? Oh, that’s right, football.
Maybe it’s even time to look at diversity among children’s writers. I’d wager, based on my experience, that over 90% of writers, agents, editors and publishers in the kids market are white, middle class women. Which is wonderful for girls’ books, but what about the boys?
So, all the more reason to put my money where my (big, fat) mouth is. To paraphrase Jon McGregor at the WEM conference, ask not what the writing industry can do for you, ask what you can do for it.
Achievement For All brought Henry ‘The Fonz’ Winkler to the UK recently for a dyslexia campaign. Now they’re running the excellent Million Minutes of Reading challenge for Nottingham schools. Forty schools signed up already. Every school gets a video of me actually saying something quite useful! That there are two big reasons to read.
Firstly, I was a lonely child (cue violins). I borrowed my family’s library tickets and every fortnight withdrew eight books. These transported me to distant planets and fantasy kingdoms, where I battled dragons, aliens, sorcerers, etcetera. So, books are important because they take us on adventures!
Secondly, just as we need to exercise our bodies, our brains need to keep fit too. And books are a great way of pumping up brain muscles. To put it in grown-up speak, books spread information and critical thinking. This means they empower and protect against tyranny.
And that’s why I’ll keep on battling those pesky Martians, getting rejections letters, and yes, struggling down school corridors with boxes stuffed with paperbacks. Books matter.
Gravity’s Eye launches at Nottingham Writers’ Studio on Fri July 10th 7.30 pm with a free bar and snacks. For more information phone 07596 089634 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dawn of the Unread is a graphic novel celebrating Nottingham’s literary history. It was created to support libraries and bookshops. It began life online and won the Teaching Excellence Award at the Guardian Education Awards in 2015 and has since been published by Spokesman Books (2017). All profits go towards UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature.
- Ian Douglas’ Website (iandouglas-writer.com)
- Black People Don’t Read Science Fiction (aliciamccalla.com)
- Feminist Science Fiction Is The Best Thing Ever (motherboard.vice.com)
- Science Fiction For YA: A Reading List (davidbrin.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Zeke Hailey Novels (zekehailey.com)
- Achievement For All (afa3as.org.uk)
- One Million Minutes – Are You Taking Part? (heartoftheschool.edublogs.org)
- Frankie’s Magic Football (bookzone4boys.blogspot.co.uk)