A recent sensationalist article in The Sunday Times newspaper caused me to turn incandescent with rage. As it turns out, the Headteacher of King’s College School, Wimbledon, had NOT actually banned all the popular series like Percy Jackson and Cherub from the Library, just excluded them from classroom collections designed to encourage the pupils to read good literature.
The article, however, did not make this clear and for several days I was to be found muttering imprecations about barriers to reading
You see, my fervent belief is that if someone thinks they are a reader, then they are a reader.
Of course there are books that are of more literary merit than others, and of course those books will stand the test of time to become classics. However, it is generally fair to say that these masterpieces require a certain amount of stamina, and you build reading stamina by starting out with the fun, appealing and – yes, easier stuff. In an ideal world, everyone would then progress to well written, challenging literature; but functional literacy is so crucial to every day life that I defend the right of readers to read what makes them happy reading beyond the curriculum, even if that is a steady diet of Louise Rennison or Rick Riordan. Surely some mental stimulation and comfort with the printed word is preferable to a complete refusal to engage voluntarily with text because it doesn’t appeal.
Readers need to be allowed to develop their palettes. I have written elsewhere that “it is pretty certain that the bookworms will be doing better academically than their peers. This is not a chicken/egg scenario – the readers have mental stamina, can hold more information in their heads due to following multiple plots, have greater prediction skills (what could happen next?) and empathy (how might I feel in this situation?)…and the more challenging the text, the stronger these skills become. If they are still reading Wimpy Kid at 14, it’s better than not reading at all but my goodness they should be bored silly with it.”
So, yes, Alex Rider and Percy Jackson will always be welcome in any Library I run, and yes, I will sit them alongside Sherlock Holmes and The Thirty-Nine Steps and Robinson Crusoe to encourage natural progression of ability and taste.
Readers have rights, and the right to read for sheer enjoyment is one of them.
Amanda Lockwood, LRC Librarian