Stephen Moffat is right – more bangs and less bonnets will get kids reading

At the recent Doctor Who premiere, lead writer Stephen Moffat caused a stir by suggesting that kids should be given they like to read, rather than trying to get them to read a prescriptive list of  “good books”, such as Jane Austen. Despite hand wringing from the usual suspects, Moffat is quite right. Kids will read if reading is fun. Reading books you like is fun. Reading books you are told to… is usually not so fun.

I didn’t need any encouragement to read as a kid. I read everything I could get my hands on. I used to read Shakespeare for fun rather than homework. I loved T S Eliot. I read reams of science fiction, some of amazing literary merit, and some of um… less merit. But why did I read? Because I loved stories and words and books. Because I had had the chance to explore books myself and decide what I liked. And I never liked Jane Austen.

Nowadays I can appreciate her ability. But when I was fifteen lots of people sitting indoors talking about who might marry whom was not my idea of entertainment. Shakespeare on the other hand has love and death and lots and lots of weather.

I sometimes wonder whether we might not encourage kids to read by banning books from school and then surreptitiously setting up black market libraries to supply the illegal book addiction that would immediately spring up. But if we can’t do that, let’s at least get out of the way and let kids read books they enjoy. Lead them to the water trough of English literary classics  by all means, but don’t repeatedly dunk their  heads in the water while shouting “Drink! Drink! It’s good for you!”. That won’t give them a healthy relationship with anything or anyone except a psychotherapist.

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