Should children choose their own books?

The debate about whether children should have the right to choose the books they read has started up again (The Washington Post on January 13, 2015 freedom to choose). Some parents and carers feel strongly that reading should be ‘structured’: “We need kids who are reading a whole lot more, and a whole lot more demanding stuff, than they will read on their own.” The latest report from Scholastic Inc, however, suggests that children should be given freedom of choice. As Kyle Good, a spokeswoman for Scholastic puts it, “When you let kids choose the books they want to read, they’ll be voracious readers.” The report shows that children 6 years to 17 years say their favourite books are the ones they’ve chosen themselves. That goes for the books they’re most likely to finish, too.

As a children’s writer taking my latest book into schools, I’ve been overwhelmed by the passion some children display about choosing their stories and reading books in general. Those I spoke to, in a variety of Bristol schools, and between the ages 8 – 12, all seemed very confident about making their book choice; they knew what their reading likes and dislikes were and were able to make a decision based largely on the back cover blurb as to whether they thought they’d enjoy my story or not. (A very big thanks to the children in St Joseph’s Primary School who helped me decide on the wording for the blurb!) Most then turned to the opening chapter to confirm their decision – and, I’m delighted to say, kept on reading…. They included plenty of boys who told me they are interested in archaeology and lots of girls who like adventure stories with “a kind of mystery to solve” (confirming Scholastic’s findings).

In my experience, children show that they enjoy choosing their own books, just as adults do, and, despite the distraction of computers, gaming and TV shows, view a good story very much as a treat. At the end of one of my visits, two girls hurried off with a shared copy of Walking on Gold: “After tea, we’re going to get into our pyjamas and read it together,” they told me. “We can’t wait!”

Music to my ears.


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