The reader in the writer – and the adult

I’ve just been listening to Radio 4’s Saturday Live, which is a must for any parent. Children’s authors and issues slip quietly and easily into my ears and attention each week.

Today we were hearing about books and boys (amongst many other things). The self-fulfilling prophecy that boys like fact-y books more than fiction. You can hear more about this on Woman’s Hour here and here for as long as the links last.

Firstly, tell that to my avid male readers of fabulous fiction. A broad statistic need not be a truth universally acknowledged.

But more than that, fiction is important for all children. Fiction fires our imagination: it frees us from the here and now and gives us friends, worlds, lives that we couldn’t otherwise hope to experience. Whether it’s curling up with characters at bedtime or snatching five minutes with a book before a lesson begins, fiction should be a way of life.

Because without imagination, we cannot fully experience empathy. If we cannot put ourselves into the shoes, the heads, the lives of others, we may miss the best of being human. There are too many adults – often highly successful in their chosen careers – who nevertheless cannot empathise with their clients, employees, patients, public – or pupils. And it shows.

If you still need convincing of the value of fiction, read Barrs and Cork, ‘The Reader in the Writer’. They argue that children must read well if they are to write well. Or, to paraphrase TS Eliot, writers first imitate, then steal; deface what they take, then make it into something better. As teachers, first we see Alex Ryder plagiarised; ultimately we find Horowitz taken in exciting, new directions. That’s what makes a Level 6.

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