'We have an obligation to imagine' … Neil Gaiman gives The Reading Agency annual lecture on the future of reading and libraries. Photograph: Robin Mayes
"I don't think there is such a thing as a bad book for children."I've talked before in these pages, many times, of the importance libraries had for me as a child. Without them there are whole worlds I would never have discovered, simply because my parents could not afford my reading addiction to fiction. But, and this is a big but, there were books I was not allowed to bring home to read because they were 'bad'. You may be imagining all sorts of things now. Was I trying to bring home The Passionflower Hotel? Lolita? Lady Chatterley's Lover? No. None of those. I was trying to read Enid Blyton.
"Oh, those are dreadful books!" I was told. "Terrible grammar. Badly written. Read something else." So I did. I read Elinor M Brent Dyer's Chalet School books instead. But just occasionally I was able to sneak a Blyton through, and gradually (under the bedclothes at night) I worked my way through Malory Towers, The Secret Seven, The Famous Five, the Adventures et al. I remember feeling slightly ashamed of myself, though, as if enjoying Blyton as much as I did was a dirty little hidden secret.
This is why I get so cross when I hear people decry the success of 'pink sparkly series' or any kind of wildly popular set of books for children which might be written to a formula. As adults we might not think they are great literature, nor want to read them ourselves - but why should we deny any child the right to find a way into the wonderful world of reading through them? If pink and sparkly or beastly and swashbuckling or soppy romantic or ghostly horror series fiction becomes what Gaiman calls 'the gateway drug to reading' for a child, then what is wrong with that? Apart from the 'bad Blyton', as a young teenager, I had a whole year where I read nothing but Mills and Boon and Barbara Cartland. It didn't stop me going on to love Dickens, Austen, Ken Kesey, Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf and a whole host of other literary luminaries,
As Gaiman so rightly goes on to say:
"We need our children to get onto the reading ladder: anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy."In a time when our literacy figures for young adults are some of the worst in the industrialised world, I don't care what a child reads, as long as they DO read. It's the only 'drug habit' I ever want them to acquire.
Lucy's next Guardian Masterclass on 'How To Write For Children' is on 16th November 2013
Lucy's newest picture book, Bear's Best Friend, is published by Bloomsbury "A charming story about the magic of friendship which may bring a tear to your eye" Parents in Touch "The language is a joy…thoughtful and enjoyable" Armadillo Magazine. "Coats's ebullient, sympathetic story is perfectly matched by Sarah Dyer's warm and witty illustrations." The Times
Her latest series for 7-9s, Greek Beasts and Heroes is out now from Orion Children's Books.
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Lucy is represented by Sophie Hicks at Ed Victor Ltd