Maysun and The Wingfish

Maysun and the Wingfish is another excellent book from the wonderful Mother’s Milk Books.

Packaged as a children’s story this book has a universal appeal due to the wonderful lyrical nature of the prose and the layers in the meaning and characters. For children the appeal is in the story of the wonderful wingfish, the imagination in describing the fictitious world and the stunning artwork on the cover.

While many books are written specifically to fulfill a market niche, it is obvious from reading Maysun and the Wingfish that this is not that case. This is a story that was written for the pure joy of sharing the written word, and that translates into a story that is a pure joy to read. As such the audience for this book is less clearly defined than many of the books released by larger commercial publishers. In my opinion this book’s greatest strength would be for older children who are less advanced readers and struggle to find books that they do not feel patronised by. Whilst the language is readable and the prose flowing the ideas are complex enough for older readers to take as much from it as the younger readers.

This is a beautiful book, and would make an excellent Christmas present for children who love animal stories, fantasy stories and books in general.


Silver Medal in the WIshing Shelf Book awards

This week I got the incredibly good news that ‘The Mouse Who Howled at the Moon’ won a silver medal in the 2015 Wishing Shelf book awards.

The annual awards are run by People’s Choice Book awards winner Billy Bob Buttons for books published by independent authors and publishers. Finalists are selected by groups of children and teachers and the winners are then picked by a reading group panel. The winners were announced on the 31st of March 2016.


‘The Mouse Who Howled at the Moon’ took second place in the books for 6-9 year olds category.

Get your copy in print here:

‘Oy Yew’ by Ana Salote, which has previously been reviewed on this blog was also a finalist in the books for teenagers category.

Get your copy of Oy Yew here:

If you’ve forgotten about Oy Yew since I first reviewed it you can read the original blog post here:″

Student Wordsmith Awards Nights

I am pleased to be able to announce that three pieces of my work have been nominated for SWAN awards! These awards are being run by the Student Wordsmith press to recognise the authors, journalists and poets who have contributed to their publications over the last three years. The awards night will be held on the 16th of April in Loughborough.

I am of course taking my wonderful illustrator with me as a thank you for all her hard work on the ‘Animal Adventures’ series.

My nominated pieces are:

‘Help’ for best poem published in the Purple Breakfast Review

‘Echoes of Lascaux’ for best prose published in the Purple Breakfast Review

‘Goodbye to the Bees’ for best prose published in the Purple Breakfast Review

Further details on the awards night and how to get your very own copies of the Purple Breakfast Review can be found here:

Obstacles to reading: No access to books.

For many people the idea of not being able to access books freely sounds crazy. We are used to libraries packed full of books, high street book shop chains, charity shops with a selection of second hand volumes, e-readers to download endless e-books and many other outlets giving access to books. However not all people are so lucky. We would like to think that not having access to books is something that is a problem only in developing countries with serious and widespread poverty problems. However, the truth is that children in all countries can have problems accessing books, particularly at home. While school libraries are usually well stocked some children may have no books at all at home.

The reasons for this are varied and complex. Some families may be unable to afford books, others may not see the value of books. Sadly many adults in the western world still struggle with reading and writing and may avoid having books in the house because they are embarrassed at their own illiteracy. Some children are in such great need of protection from violence, drugs and abuse that their need for education and reading is easy to overlook when their physical safety is such a high priority.

Regardless of the reasons for a lack of access to books it is still a terrible injustice that any child should have their education and well being compromised in such a way. Thankfully there are schemes out there that aim to remedy this, both at home in the UK and abroad.

One of my favourites is ‘Give a Book’ a charity which sends books to ‘anyone who might need them’, funded by donations from members of the public.

Why is Reading Important?

For several months now I have been posting about how to engage children with books, reading and literacy. One question that has yet to be explored is the question of why books and reading are so important. Exactly what benefits do our children gain from being proficient readers and reading a lot of books? Does this have any impact on society in general?

The most obvious is enjoyment. As a species we are programmed to enjoy stories. In this day and age that can come from video games, TV, movies and any number of other sources. Stories shape our world, and books are only one part of that. In my opinion they are one of the most fulfilling ways of experiencing a story. The words create another world, another lifetime, in your head. You can interpret the story, the characters and the setting in any way you like, the way that feels right to you, there is no right or wrong answer. Unlike pictorial forms of story telling your imagination gets free rein to imagine the visuals of everything you are reading on the page. Of course children begin with picture books which help to kick-start this process of imagination development, but they are not very old before the pictures become almost a hindrance rather than a help.

Exploration and development are also important aspects of reading for children. As they grow and learn they can be exposed to a thousand different cultures, lifestyles and ways of thinking in a safe and secure way. Children who read extensively are likely to be more engaged with the world at large, to be more informed and grow up to be more productive members of society (*on average, exceptions to this rule not withstanding). reading also helps them learn to distinguish fantasy from reality and to explore human emotions and relationships in their own head. This can lead to a higher “social IQ” and an enhanced ability to relate to, and empathise with, people with views that differ from their own.

Academically children who read a lot also have an advantage. Their language skills, writing ability and logical thinking skills are more advanced than their peers. They also exhibit a greater concentration span and level of self discipline than children who don’t read for pleasure. They are also likely to pick up a high level of general knowledge which can be useful in many situations, including studying for exams and applying themselves to challenges in the workplace as adults.

Continuing reading throughout their teens and into adulthood also conveys advantages. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development conducted a study which showed that reading for pleasure at the age of 15 was a key factor in predicting future upward social mobility. An article in the Daily Telegraph unpicked this research, suggesting that reading for pleasure at this age indicated an aptitude for the sort of lifelong learning that allows upwards social mobility through career advancement.

A society that reads is a more informed, more academically developed, more logical and ultimately more successful society. Crime rate and reading rate show a direct correlation. The higher the literacy level of a country or area, the lower the crime rate is likely to be. Prison inmates show a distinctly lower literacy level than the general population. Now this doesn’t mean in any way that all society’s ills can be resolved by everyone reading more, but it does illustrate that reading and literacy are fundamental social issues, and that the campaign to engage children with literacy has never been more important.

Lincoln Superstar in Review

A few months ago I diverted from the primary subject of this blog to review the west end musical Wicked.″ title=”A Small Departure – Wicked In Review   As a professional production it exceeded my expectations in every way and I have been looking for other opportunities to see musicals ever since. With that in mind I was delighted to hear that some of my students were due to appear in an amateur musical production in Lincoln cathedral. Tickets sold out far too quickly for me to get in on the first round but I was lucky enough to get a pair of tickets for an additional performance decided on at the last minute.

Jesus Christ Superstar is a musical I have actually avoided seeing until now, mostly because of the religious aspect which is not something that interests me. I was therefore heading to the show mostly because I was proud to see my students perform (and they were wonderful, even in minor roles they shone – and I don’t think that was just my rose-tinted spectacles). I expected less from an amateur performance than I am used to experiencing from the professional companies I usually see, it was not long before I realised what a mistake that expectation was.

We can start with the staging. The 200 strong cast made use of the entire cathedral to set a completely immersive atmosphere from the moment you walked through the door. The feeling was one of walking round an ancient market place, as though it were a living museum. From oldest to youngest the performers were completely absorbed in the roles they played and they carried the audience along with them.

My students, Violet Kamal-Poole (centre left) and Indigo Kamal-Poole (right) with Violet’s boyfriend Joel (centre right) who was cast as an apostle.



By the time the music started and the performance began in earnest I was already almost too absorbed to remember to take any more photos.

I knew enough of Ben Poole, playing the lead role of Jesus, to know that I should expect a confident and competent performance from him. I was not prepared for how thoroughly he embodied the role, the commitment to every scene from the lightest to the grittiest and the sheer power of his performance. By the end of the show if he had asked the audience to follow him off a cliff I think they would have done it. I cannot imagine a more compelling actor to play the role, and I have seen less convincing acting win Oscars.


An absolute stand-out performance was also delivered by Sophie Kamal in the role of Mary Magdalene. Having downplayed her abilities prior to the show she surprised me in the best possible way. The whole show was brilliant, but if everything else had been terrible it would still have been worth going just to hear this lady sing. I saw a few people around me wiping away tears during “I don’t know how to love him” and once or twice I even felt a lump in my own throat – not something that happens easily, and I have never felt a performer’s emotions that powerfully during a musical before. As well as being technically competent and an extremely good actress Sophie has that rare quality to the tone of her voice that takes your breath away when you hear it.



In an amateur production you often expect there to be one or two stand out performers who carry the show and then a plethora of “nice” safe performances. In this show there was no room for “nice” or safe. You would struggle to find such a concentration of talent on a broadway stage never mind in an amateur production. Even one or two sore throats (only to be expected after two weeks of performances) did not lessen the impact of the show.  Judas became incredibly complex, it takes a talented actor indeed to make an audience empathise with one of the most famous and hated villains in history. Herod was wickedly insane and hilariously funny all at the same time, a very young actor pulled off a performance of a much older character with flair. Special mentions must also go to the actors portraying Annas, Peter, Pilate and John the Baptist.

One particular surprise came during the temple scene when 10 year old Imogen Murphy came within a hair’s breadth of stealing the show as a group of guardsman attempted to sell her as a slave. A name to watch for the future.

At the end of the show the finale moved out into the open air outside the cathedral and left everyone spellbound – and not caring at all about being eaten alive by the Lincoln midges! It was a perfect ending to a fantastic experience.

Is there anything I would have changed? Yes. I would have made sure I got in quick enough to get tickets for more than one performance, because I was definitely left wanting more.

I can’t wait to see what this amateur company do next. One thing I do know for certain – whatever it is I want tickets.

Overcoming Obstacles to Reading With Bali Rai

A few months ago I wrote about a lack of relatable characters being a major obstacle to reading. (Read it here: Just a few days after I wrote this post I had the pleasure of meeting the talented Bali Rai at the Leicester Writes festival. He spoke so passionately about the issue of reading and the obstacles to reading faced by some children that I knew it would not be difficult to persuade him to give an interview on that subject.

Bali Rai was born in Leicester in 1971 to a migrant family. He identifies as British Asian and states that he is proud of the multicultural heritage of his home city. He wrote his first stories while at school and, after a few years living and working in London, signed up first with an agent, and then a publisher. His first novel – written whilst working in supermarkets in London – (Un)arranged Marriage – was published in 2001. Since then his books, centred mostly around the multicultural community he grew up in, have won many awards and even been part of the GCSE curriculum.

unarranged marriage

As I had hoped Bali agreed to give an email interview with very little effort on my part. His words on this subject are extremely powerful and I feel that the best representation of his passion and drive is simply to publish the interview unedited and in it’s entirety. I make no apologies for the resultant length of this post. This is a man who is passionate about giving equal opportunities to all children through reading, and who rightly recognises that children from some sectors of society are disadvantaged by the reading culture – or lack of it – in their communities, in a way that other children are not. He is also a man working incredibly hard to fix this disparity in the best way he knows how – by writing books these children actually want to read – and then encouraging them to actually pick up those books. I have also been furnished with a list of great projects seeking to encourage reading in young people that will form the basis of a second post.

Find out more about Bali Rai on his website:!/home

Bali Rai’s books can be purchased through his amazon author page:

Q1) What are your first memories of reading as a child?

My first memories include being taken to the local library by my dad, who couldn’t read in English himself, and being given picture books. I loved The Cat in the Hat and things like that. I also remember reading big non-fiction books about Vikings and ancient Egypt too. I still love reading about History now – so those early days were very formative.


Q2) When did you realise that you were part of a social group that was under-represented in literature and what impact did this have on your reading and writing?

It began to dawn around the age of eleven, at which point I was reading two or three books a week. I wanted to find stories about people like my friends and me and they weren’t there. It was just a long succession of middle and upper class white kids, or American kids at high schools etc… There were a few books about characters from India and other places (Come to Mecca by Farrukh Dhondy springs to mind) but nothing about BME or poor white kids from inner cities. That lack of diversity made me write my own stories. It was the kick-start I needed to think about plugging the gap myself.


Q3) What impact did you see this having on your class mates? Did their responses differ from your own?

A few of my friends saw what I did, but most just got on with it. To be honest, the vast majority of my teenage friends were non-readers. They weren’t even reluctant – they just did not read. As adults, I’ve asked a few why this was the case, and the responses are very similar. Reading and books were for “other people” and about “other people”. They didn’t feel as though they belonged to any culture of reading. I get the same responses from school pupils nowadays too – the ones who don’t read.


Q4) What impact did your family have on your reading experience?

My family didn’t read. My parents were Indian immigrants hampered by their lack of education and literacy. Beyond them, I had maybe one or two older family members who had books at home, but they were academic texts. There was no culture of reading in my family, to such an extent, that many of my cousins thought me odd for always having a book on the go.


Q5) Who was it who first made you believe that you could write the books that were so obviously missing from your school library?

My biggest early influence was Sue Townsend. Her Adrian Mole books were set in Leicester and more real than anything I’d ever seen before. She wrote about the kind of people I saw everyday, in school and out on the streets of my home city. It was like being whacked in the head with a mallet. When I found out about her background, her influence grew greater still. That this poor, working class woman had overcome life on a sink estate in Leicester to become a literary star seemed amazing (and it was). She was my literary hero and role model in a way that other writers I read (Roald Dahl, Douglas Adams, S.E Hinton etc…) could never be. I knew her children, and got to know her too. By the time of her sad passing, we were friends and I am gutted that she is no longer around. The first time we met properly, I was thinking about what I might say and she took me aside and told me that she knew all about my career, and that her grandchildren loved my books. I was so shocked that I just went red and said “Er, yeah.” She was a special human being.


Q6) It is sometimes said that you should write the stories only you can write. Do you think that someone without experience of growing up in a working class multi cultural area could write books to engage children from those backgrounds?

I think that statement is party true. There is a level of authenticity that comes from real experience that just isn’t there otherwise. But that shouldn’t stop writers from trying. The late, wonderful Mal Peet once told me that he hadn’t researched his book, Keeper, by actually visiting the area of Brazil in which it is set, and I was amazed. The same can be true of working class, multicultural areas of Britain too. The key, as writers, is to look beyond lazy stereotypes and at the human beings behind the headlines.

I am constantly annoyed by middle-class comedians, for example, who co-opt stereotypical “street” language and culture for their tired, stale jokes. The ones who create characters with back-to-front caps on, or working class white girls with attitude, who wear shell suits etc… Those people wouldn’t know authentic if it stabbed them in the eyeballs. And they don’t care either. They’re sneering at working class, multicultural Britain. They don’t believe that a cabbie can be as educated as them, or that BME girls in trouble at school can also be very clever or huge readers.

As writers, we need to be better than that. It is possible for someone without first hand experience of multicultural Britain to write about it. But, it’s also important to realise that there are hardly any Teen/YA books about multicultural, working class characters actually written by people like me, who come from those communities. There are more books around at present about US high school characters than about real inner city British teens. Modern British literature is still white and middle class, at all levels. So, in effect, to have more diverse books, we need white, middle class writers to move out of their comfort zones and write about lifestyles they did not lead themselves. The alternative, of course, is to publish a more diverse range of writers, especially those from British BME or white, working class British backgrounds, and in all honesty, I don’t expect that to happen any time soon. Diversity is a buzz topic, discussed constantly. But nothing actually changes within the industry. I think British children’s, teen and young adult publishing is LESS diverse now than ever, particularly when it comes to race and culture, and to social class.


Q7) Is it important that authors and books are becoming more diverse?

I’m not sure that they are, if I’m honest. There are certainly more books about certain “minorities” around, which is very welcome. There’s been a big push to get more LBGT fiction out, for example, and that’s awesome but we need more such fiction. BME Britons make up 14% of the UK population, as a second example. But what percentage of narrators/central characters are BME in the books published in the past five years by UK publishers? One per cent? Half of one per cent? It’s certainly not much more than that.

The reality of publishing in 2015 is US books, about US characters, making the big waves in terms of sales. It’s about TV and Film tie-ins, and selling British authors to the US, if they are “suitable” for the US market. YA and middle grade, as age-ranges, are completely American. It’s also about celebrities having books written for them, and getting all the shelf space and promotional tables at Asda, Tesco and Waterstone’s etc…

At the same time, what background do these more “diverse” characters come from socially? Are they poor, working class, BME or disenchanted? Or are they just more middle class white kids, many of whom are now American high school kids? I’ve nothing against US books per se – I read crime fiction constantly and 70% is from the US – but how much of a helping hand does US culture need? It’s already omnipresent in our cultural lives. And which US kids are we reading about? Is it black teenage males like Trayvon Martin being shot dead because of their race? Is it Latino teens in gangs or South Asian teens working in petrol stations and corner stores, with immigrant parents? Or, as usual, is it white kids?


Q8) Have you seen a change in the attitudes of agents and publishers as your work has become more successful?

Haha – I’d love to say yes, but that would be a lie. The attitude towards me, personally, has changed, but I don’t think my being published opened up a wave of new BME talent being signed up. My agent has always been brilliant, and she and I understand each other completely. Penny knows why I write, and what I want to do, and how I want to achieve my goals. I’ve also had some very brilliant editors over the years too – people who truly get what I’m trying to do.

But, I still don’t think I get anywhere near the same respect as a writer as my white counterparts. I’ve been doing this for nearly sixteen years now, and the books I’ve had most success with are the ones that are about British Asian characters in very obvious British Asian settings. Whenever I’ve tried to move on and do something different, I’ve been challenged and my work questioned. Fire City is just one example. Many people told me that it wasn’t my “usual” thing. But why should I have a niche? Does Patrick Ness have a niche? Does Alan Gibbons?

I write about multicultural Britain – not particular races or cultures – the WHOLE thing. Yet I am expected to write about British Asians first and foremost. And in being pigeonholed, my work has been almost ghettoized, in my opinion. Certainly within the industry anyway.


Q9) What impact do you see your books having on young people when you do work in schools?

Schools and events are very important to me. I do a massive number every year, and I see first hand the big impact that truly authentic multicultural books have on certain readers. I mean those who don’t read or are very reluctant. Pupils who live in poorer communities, who don’t have a culture of reading, whose parents are the same, and where education is often seen as a necessary evil rather than a stepping stone to a brighter future. Add the BME/EAL pupils in our cities and towns, and those people are the ones I’m writing about on the whole. I’ve lost count of the number of pupils who tell me they didn’t read until they read a book of mine. That’s not meant to denigrate any other writers (and there are others whose names I hear alongside mine in such schools) it’s just a statement of fact, taken from my vast experience of school events.

It isn’t about race or culture either. I’ve had as many white pupils say the same as those who are BME. Essentially, books like The Crew, The Gun or The Last Taboo are completely different to 99% of the books they come across. I don’t do “authenticity”. I am genuinely, authentically from the same background as these pupils – inner city, multicultural and poor. I don’t make an effort to write that way – it’s the only way I know. The grittiness is a reflection of the life I led as a youngster, and the lives of many of my friends and family. If I’m a tourist anywhere, it’s within the London-centric, white, middle class literary world of UK publishing. Out in a regular comprehensive, in inner-city Manchester, for example, I’m right at home.

Encountering people that reflect their own lives or the lives of their friends, in a book they borrowed from their school library, usually shocks the pupils I meet. They don’t feel that literature is ever about people like them, so even those who are readers did what I did, which is to read predominantly about middle class, white kids. When they “discover” something different, they are very enthusiastic. That is an effect that should not be understated. Seeing books as something that belong to you, too, is a huge stepping-stone in creating new readers from those most averse to reading. Alongside other writers, I want to represent the unheard voices in British society. I think that is part of the reason I’ve become so popular in schools – that and the swearing, of course!


Q10) How important do you see reading for pleasure as being to young people?

Totally, completely, utterly important. So important, that denying young people the right to books, to libraries and to librarians, is a form of abuse – and I make no apology for that statement. It is a simple fact that those who read for pleasure, on top of an education, will do better in life than those who do not. When you deny them that chance, you narrow their choices and willfully disallow them the chance of a truly great education.

Why we still have to convince people of this is maddening. And, why education policy is not written with reading for pleasure at its core is beyond me. It beggars belief. If you know a young person, and you love them and want them to have a better life, get them to start reading. Whatever it takes…


Q11) What steps do you think those who work with young people can take to help encourage them to read for pleasure?

Firstly, we must forget about our own tastes/choice. I can’t stand Twilight, for instance, but that doesn’t mean I won’t suggest it to someone who is interested and is just developing a love of reading. What we, as adults like, means nothing. Fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, magazines, comics, graphic novels etc… Give them a wide range of reading material and ask them about their interests, and then make matches.

Secondly, understand that there is a huge difference between a child from a wealthy background who doesn’t read much, and those from poor families, or immigrant families. The poorer pupils, and those with immigrant parents, are most likely to be severely reluctant and to have no connection to reading as a cultural form. Many will never have owned a book, or have library cards. Some are also far more likely to face serious issues outside of school, and we MUST be honest about that. Hungry pupils, tired pupils, scared and frustrated pupils, those who face horrendous lives at home, or whose parents impose “cultural” barriers on their participation in wider society – these are the kids I’m talking about. They will be more in tune with the gritty stuff, the stuff that some people frown at, full of challenging situations and bad language. I regularly use hard-hitting novels to challenge the preconceptions of young people from this group, many of whom think all books are boring. Examples other than my own include Kevin Brooks’ Road of the Dead, Anne Cassidy’s Looking for JJ, Malorie Blackmans’ Boys Don’t Cry, and Darren Shan’s Demon Apocalypse.

Reluctant pupils from wealthier backgrounds DO know what reading culture is, in my experience, which is a big head start. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t as important, or that the same techniques won’t work. But we should understand that there are differences and that these will play a part. It’s easier to change a pupil who comes from a home with books in than one who doesn’t understand the value or need for books at all.

Thirdly, make it challenging and fun. Look at the wider issues raised by books like Hate by Alan Gibbon’s, or whatever you decide to use. Read to them, and pick the most challenging parts, rather than censoring them. Get them to recreate the blurb, make their own, alternate covers, and partner up with older, confident readers. Be brutally honest about the life chances of those who read well versus those who do not. Help them to create their own stories, with themselves as the narrators. Get some comic software, and let them make their own. There’s so much more I could add.


Finding Reading Material for Reluctant Readers – Independent Presses

Sometimes finding books for the reluctant reader can be difficult. The choices from traditional large commercial publishers can sometimes be quite similar. When a child does find a style of book they enjoy it can sometimes be the only one like it offered by the commercial publishers. Even the biggest branches of Waterstones only carry books from commercial publishers, and, very rarely, books of significant local interest. So where can you look to try and find books that suit your child?

The answer may lie in the multitude of small independent presses that you can find in every corner of the country. These presses don’t have the big advertising budgets or the commercial clout to get their books into the big chain bookshops or generate the media hype that the commercial publishers can. This does not mean that the books they produce are any less fantastic. Often it is quite the opposite. A small press can only afford to take on books that are exceptional because, unlike a commercial publisher, they cannot afford to have a single book fail to sell. When your advertising budget is next to nothing this means they can only rely on the quality of their books to generate word of mouth advertising from the marketing options that cost nothing, or very little.

Recently I came across a fantastic example of a children’s book that ticks every single box you would want for a reluctant reader. The book is called “Oy Yew”. It is a wonderful, whimsical, fantasy story for children aged 8 plus, which is captivating enough to engage readers throughout the child and young adult reader spectrum and indeed for adults to enjoy as well. It is the precious thing that all publishers seek and so rarely find – a crossover book. Examples of crossover books include Harry Potter, His Dark Materials and now Oy Yew.

This book came from a small press based in Nottingham called Mother’s Milk books. The mother’s milk team describe themselves as “a small, family-run press that publishes high-quality, beautiful books for adults and children that normalize breastfeeding and celebrate femininity and empathy.”

So how does a child’s fantasy book about an underfed waif from a foreign country who has to fight against those who oppress him, and others like him, fit into this remit? Empathy, this is where Oy Yew fits in. It is a book that celebrates uniqueness, encourages readers to think about social justice and above all entertains in a way that will leave you thinking about it for weeks after you read it.

The book contains made-up words and phrases that will challenge young readers without proving to be an obstacle to enjoying the book. I had a dyslexic friend read the book after I had finished it and they also loved it and found it easy to read.

The best thing about this book? It’s a trilogy so there are two more to come.

Who is going to love this book? Everyone who loved His Dark Materials and similar books. If you loved that style, the way it combines just enough closure with a realistic sense of what life is actually like, the engaging characters, the complex storyline and the constant questions then this book is going to blow you away. All readers of fantasy fiction and everyone who loves an underdog story.

Who is NOT going to love this book? It is very much a fantasy book so those who don’t like high-fantasy fiction probably won’t be too enthralled and some parts are not suitable for very young children. Probably not a book that will appeal to those who exclusively read wordy high brow literary fiction – although I read some of this type of book too and I still loved Oy Yew.

Get your print copy here:

or get a copy for your Kindle here:

Obstacles to Reading: Boring Books!

Some books are boring. There it’s been said. Not all books are worth reading. We know this, as adults we have come across books that we just didn’t like, books we had to force ourselves to finish and books we just couldn’t face finishing at all.

The last book I really couldn’t finish was a book written as a comedy diary about a horse. Unfortunately the “comedy” seemed to be about 50% taking cheap pot shots at gay people. Everything the author didn’t like was “gay” and characters portrayed in a negative light were “great poof balls”. I stopped reading, I couldn’t take the small-mindedness for anymore than two chapters. I was heartily disappointed as the book had been highly recommended. I have also stopped reading a small number of books because they were just too boring. Among them some critically acclaimed titles. Why did I stop reading? Life is just too short to waste time on a book you don’t like when you could be reading one of the many thousands of amazing books out there I have yet to discover.

Children often have the erroneous idea that they absolutely must finish every book that they start. If they happen to pick up a number of books that don’t hold their interest this can quickly result in a child not wanting to read anything very much any more. Why would we want children to feel they must finish every book when we know as adults that this simply isn’t the case? So how can we tackle this issue?

Firstly – tell them they don’t have to finish! This is a simple and much overlooked strategy. If a child says their reading book is boring don’t look stern and tell them they have to finish anyway. Instead help them choose a new one. This applies to teachers as much as parents. There are some books an older child may have to finish for coursework/class work but these are few and far between and often read in class as much as at home. Reading books are meant to be pleasurable. Forcing a child to finish a book they find boring, or allowing them to think they have to finish it before they move on, removes that pleasure.

Help them choose books they are going to like. Some children will just pick any book they come to from the bookshelf at home, at school or at the library or a bookshop. Get them to think about the things they are interested in and choose books accordingly. There are hundreds of books for pony mad children, tractor mad children, children that love football, children who love ballet dancing, street dancing, cooking, mysteries and just about every other hobby and interest you can think of. Picking something that appeals to their interest greatly reduces the chances that they will find the book boring. Also make sure to get them to pick something they can read easily if it is intended to be read alone. Use time spent reading together to stretch them and let them read something they are advanced enough to enjoy without struggling when reading by themselves.

Reluctant readers are more likely to pick up a book if they know they can decide to put it down if it is too difficult or they find it boring. This is the goal – a child that wants to pick up a book. Get there any way you can!

Obstacles to reading: lack of relatable characters.

For most children in the UK and US there is no problem finding books containing characters they can relate to. As books have become more inclusive it has become easier for children in some minority groups to find characters that are like them in children’s literature. However, some groups still struggle to find characters that they can relate to. This is particularly important as children start to deepen their understanding of character motivation. If children have to start by empathising with characters that are not like them then they will have a more difficult time understanding these principles.

Statistics also show that a lack of positive role models of their own race and social group in literature can be disadvantageous to children in terms of their own reading. In the US several studies have been done on the prevalence of different races in children’s books. In 2011 Only 3% of children’s books were written by latino authors or about latino characters. A study in the same year showed that just 18% of latino fourth graders in the US were proficient in reading. This compared with 44% of white children in the same grade. Teachers who work with large Latino populations speculated in an article in the New York Times, that the lack of Latino characters in children’s books is off putting to their Latino students, and may contribute to them feeling that their familiar culture and imagery is not desirable in the US.

Other groups who also struggle to find characters they can relate to include the children of same-sex couples and children with disabilities. Whilst some publishers are actively tackling this issue, others are relying on their authors to provide a solution. Active measures to tackle inequality bring with them their own set of issues. If a character or book has been placed by a publisher as a token “inclusive” or “diverse” character or book it can seem forced or stilted. This only serves to make the children reading the book feel even more marginalised.

So what is the solution?

Well with the advent of the Indie publishing revolution parents and teachers have a greater choice of books than ever before, and all they have to do to make a independently published book appear to be mainstream is to purchase a print copy through createspace, or a copy for their classroom ipads or other tablet devices (should they be lucky enough to have them) through Kindle or ibooks.

Some suggestions can be found below.

LGBT friendly childrens’ books

Latino childrens’ books

Books that feature characters with disabilities