Sunday, 8 October 2017

The uses of celebrities by Keren David

Some people recently have made out that children’s authors collectively are a bunch of meanies, a cross between playground bullies and 1970s, union leaders, narrow-minded and nasty, wanting to keep the fun and rewards of writing for children to themselves.

This came after the announcement of the World Book Day list of titles which children can buy for £1 in March. The list was so thick with celebrities that only one could be described as a ‘children’s writer’ alone. The impression given was that in order to get on the list one had to have another claim to fame. Many authors called attention to this. And the response…see above.

I have no problem with celebrity books. They encourage kids to read. They widen the opportunities available to professional writers to earn money, as ghost writers. And sometimes they allow someone with genuine expertise -  whether it’s football, cycling or baking  -  to share that in an inspiring book form.

And the WBD list -  well, it’s unfortunate. It celebrates a celebrity culture rather than story-telling and literature. But it’s not the end of the world. A lot of children will have books that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. And hopefully they will discover something in those books that will bring them back for more. (And let’s not forget that many kids can’t afford to buy books when they cost £7.99)

Because, what really worries me goes beyond one list, or a few celebrities. It’s a feeling that I have that reading as a pastime is beginning to die out. I met the wonderfully enthusiastic Y8 reading club at my Patron of Reading school this week. I asked them what they thought could be done to get more students at the school reading. What if they filmed recommendations for books and put them on social media?

 “They won’t listen to us,” I was told. “We’re the nerds.”
Who would they listen to? “Celebrities,” came the answer. And that meant, well, pretty much anyone who appears on television or YouTube.

So, maybe the WBD celebrity list can earn their place in the sun. Maybe they can read and recommend other writers’ books, and promote the cause of reading in general? Maybe they can campaign against library cuts and closures?

Otherwise, we’re all left squabbling over a decreasing pool of readers, in a world dominated by the glowing light of the screen. 


Sue Bursztynski said...

A few years ago the theme for Children's Book Week here was "Champions Read." I hunted in vain for photos of celebrities, especially athletes, reading. Finally, I got some of my book club members to pose with sporting equipment such as a football or a discus, and reading a favourite book. One of my photos showed them with their books on an Olympic dais, wearing medals. It worked, but it says something about the celebrities, doesn't it?

Our students seem to be reading for fun, judging by the overdue lists. ;-) My library technician took her overdue list in with her to her annual review as a sample of her work. "What, you mean the kids are READING?" the Principal exclaimed. He meant it too.

Interestingly, sometimes the celebrities do write. Academy Award winning actor Thomas Tryon quit acting when he found he was able to pay his bills as a horror novelist who wrote Stephen King-style novels BEFORE Stephen King was known by anyone. And we did an interview on my blog with a writer who had written football related fiction with a footy celebrity. I didn't think the footy player had actually written anything, but he had. They had been friends since childhood, so wrote books together.

Penny Dolan said...

Good suggestion, Keren, especially if the books they recommend aren't by other celebrities - and they've read the books as well.

As ever, I'm always amazed at your ingenuity and efforts, Sue in Australia. You certainly seem to transmit your love of books and reading to your students.

Patsy said...

It does seem that the quality of writing (for all readers, not just children) is often secondary to how famous the author was before they started writing.