Friday, 19 January 2007

Fantastic Solutions to Develop Young Readers

You know, I've always thought that fantasy is the perfect genre to get kids to read.

After all, what are Enid Blyton's Magic Faraway Tree and Wishing Chair stories but very simple, imaginative and magical fantasy stories targeted at kids? It's full of magic, made-up lands and creatures and fantastic adventures that I used to love reading even before I started reading Standard One textbooks (which explains why I was never very keen on reading those textbooks in the first place).

And as much as I complain about Harry Potter, I have to agree that it has aroused interest in reading among a lot of kids all around the world. And with all that magic, monsters and adventures that Harry and gang get into, kids get to use their imagination to try and conjure up what happens in the book. It's something very fun to do, all that imagining how a Quiditch match looks like, or how a Snitch flies.

Anyway, like I said, fantasy is perfect for getting kids to read. There's really nothing more fun for a kid than imagining worlds and magic that does not exist, and playing it in your mind. I should know, after reading all those Lone Wolf books, I used to make up my own adventures and build my own Sommerswerd from Lacy bricks (Lego was too brittle).

After reading Faraway Tree, I built my own little playgorund by a hill slope complete with my very own Slippery-slip (and even a Bumpity-Bump. Don't ask. It hurt like hell).

And you know what? After reading those books, and playing in those fantasy worlds, I found myself wanting to read more and more such stories, to discover similar worlds, and to find more things to play and mix and match with what I had already read.

Then TV came along, and I began mixing Lone Wolf and Grailquest characters with Transformers and MASK characters and create my own stories with LEGO. But I still kept reading more and more, because it was easier than waiting one whole week for the next episode of Transformers.

Another idea is to start them off with a graphic novel. Not all graphic novels are about superheroes, ok? Some are quite good, and don't have any violence or sex in them at all. Take Jeff Smith's Bone, for instance.

Bone is the reason I came up with this post. You see, I've been buying the new Scholastic all-colour version of Bone lately, which are reprinted and targeted for children - something that Jeff Smith always resisted in the past.

According to his website, he says:

"Apparently, BONE was one of the most requested graphic novels in libraries across the country. By kids! Now, if you’ve followed my career in comics, you know I’ve fought against BONE being labeled a children’s book. Mostly for marketing reasons - -today’s comic book readers are mostly adults, and a kid’s comic wouldn’t survive long- - but also because I wasn’t writing for kids.....

Anyway, the kids found BONE and claimed it. They got enough librarians looking for it, that Ingram [the library distributors] called us. When trade magazines like Booklist, Library Journal, and Publisher’s Weekly began reporting on the high circulations of graphic novels and teachers’ discovery that kids actually were reading them, big publishers like Scholastic took notice...."

So, let's see, what have we learnt from the above quotes? Well... for one,a graphic novel written for adults turned out to be loved universally by kids, who demanded to read more.

So there you have it. Getting a kid to read isn't about getting him to sit down and memorise textbooks or reading dry classics by Shakespeare. It's about getting him to ENJOY the books he is reading, be it fantasy, graphic novels or anything else. And once he starts enjoying it, the habit will follow.

Kids are the future, and authors are realising that as well. I was at Kinokuniya just now, and I saw David Edding's The Belgariad in the children's section, with a brand new cover, targeted at children. And I thought, hey, it may be blatant milking of his best books (mostly because his new ones are shite), but it is nevertheless, a damn good idea.

After all, The Belgariad IS fantasy that is very accessible to kids - no violent killings, no foul language, no sex, etc. It's all about a hero, and his friends, going around saving the world, and making dry sarcastic remarks about each other. all in all, very wholesome.

Besides, look at all the fantasy authors who have books targeted specifically at children - Terry Pratchett (The Tiffany Aching books), Neil Gaiman (Coraline), Ursula Le Guin (Gifts/ Voices); and look at how many 'children's books' are hailed as fantasy masterpieces - His Dark Materials, Garth Nix's Old Kingdom series, The Hobbit, Narnia, and er... Harry Potter (BAH!)

Fantasy is not evil. Fantasy is not anti-religion. Fantasy is the art of creating worlds that readers can conjure up with that remarkable thing called imagination, of which children have the most of. It's... magic!

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