In a fantastic guide to the 100 books every child should read author Michael Morpurgo sets out the case for reading for pleasure:
“We are in a muddle about literacy. We worry endlessly that children in Britain are not becoming readers. Report after report reveals that we are slipping further and further behind in child literacy levels when compared with other countries…
I’m thinking that education itself is in part to blame. Ironically, it may be responsible both for the great blossoming of our literature, and at the same time for leaving so many with the impression that literature is not for them, but the preserve of a certain educated elite. As a consequence, much of our society has become separated from its own stories. This alienation can happen all too easily.
There was once a boy brought up with books all around him. There were no walls in the house: just books, it seemed. At bedtime his mother would sit on the bed and read to him – Masefield, Kipling, Lear, De la Mare, Shakespeare – and the boy loved it because his mother loved it. He could hear it in her voice, in her laugh, in the tears in her eyes. He loved the fun, shared the sadness. He loved the music in the words. He never wanted storytime to end.
Then “unwillingly to school” he went, trudging the leafy pavements through pea-souper London smogs. From then on the stories were not magical, and they weren’t musical either. Words were to be properly spelled, properly punctuated, with neat handwriting. They were not story words any more, but nouns and pronouns and verbs. Later they were used for dictation and comprehension, and all was tested and marked. A multitude of red crosses and slashes covered his exercise books, like bloody cuts.
A fear of words, a fear of failure, banished all the fun, all the magic. Every day more words died, until the evening this boy was taken to see Paul Schofield play Hamlet at the Phoenix Theatre, in London. He heard the music in the poetry and loved it again.
And then as a student at university he had a professor who sat on the corner of his desk and read Gawain and the Green Knight. As the professor read it he lived every word, loved every word. So did the student. Later, as a teacher in a primary school, the young man would read stories to his class at the end of the day, but only stories he loved. When he ran out of these, he made up stories of his own, and he became a story-maker and a writer. Now he cannot imagine a life without stories, reading them, making them.
After many years of teaching and writing he knows the difference stories can make to children’s lives, and he has some ideas about how to renew the old association between ourselves and stories…
Read the rest here.
We agree with Michael and are trying very hard to get our students to know and love books. We want our students to want to read. That is why we are putting such an emphasis on NZ Book Month and sharing our thoughts on books and reading.
Below are some selections from the early teen list of the 100 books that every child should read. I have added my thoughts as well.
Call of the Wild, by Jack London
Jack London introduced some dark themes into this story of Buck, a sled dog in the Yukon who rediscovers his wild nature when put to the test.
I do remember the darkness when I thought about this one. I read this when I was at primary school.
The Outsiders, by SE Hinton
This powerful novel about school gangs was published when SE Hinton was just 18. The Greasers and the Socs clash in typical teenage fashion – but then someone dies.
The Outsiders is still our most popular Year 10 text.
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
Smith is better known for A Hundred and One Dalmatians, but although this, her first novel, is quieter, it shines brighter. Narrated in diary form by 17-year-old Cassandra, it documents the lives of her eccentric family.
Loved this! The film – not so much.
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
A classic story of America’s Deep South. Scout and Jem see their father, Atticus, defend Tom Robinson – an innocent black man – from the charge of rape. Atticus is inspiring without being priggish.
I read this in my early years at high school and I still remember the injustice but also how much I admired Atticus.
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
The rousing story of Pip’s rise, fall and rise pips Oliver Twist as the best book with which to start reading Dickens, purely on account of his description of being in love.
I was too young for it the first time that I read it but I have read it several times since. It is deservedly a classic.
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
A novel that embeds itself in the memory, and set feminism back 150 years. The human genome has yet to produce a teenage girl who isn’t a sucker for Heathcliff.
That’s pretty true really!
The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
On June 12, 1942, Annelies Marie Frank started writing a diary. It was her 13th birthday. She died three years later in Belsen. An ordinary teenage life, made poignant by the knowledge of how it ended.
I read this in Year 7 and have never forgotten it.
Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry, by Mildred D Taylor
A tale of oppression in the American South, this tells the story of the Logans, a black family living in rural Mississippi during the 1930s.
This is also a fantastic read. I found it a real eye-opener as a child.
A Kestrel for a Knave, by Barry Hines
Filmed by Ken Loach as Kes, this snapshot of deprivation in 1960s Yorkshire describes a troubled boy’s relationship with his pet kestrel. Bittersweet and grimly artful.
Grim is right! But a very memorable read.
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
The tale of four sisters – Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy – growing up in the US Civil War, this is a charming and insightful story of childhood and family.
Sad bits though!
The Go-Between by LP Hartley
More than a famous first line. When 60-year-old Leo Colston looks back on his youth in 1900, the nostalgia is stifling. But as the story develops, it takes a darker turn.
I remember being really unsettled by this book.
Which books do you think every young person should read and why?
Here’s 1 to 6:
1. Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)
2. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)
3. A screaming comes across the sky. —Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)
4. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. —Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa)
5. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)
6. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877; trans. Constance Garnett)
Read the rest here.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is a gothic classic. It has been made into several TV and film versions and of course Kate Bush turned it into a number one song (check out the clip above – warning, contains interpretive dance).
Wuthering Heights is set in the 18th century against the backdrop of the wild and rugged Yorkshire moors, it is the story of obsessive love and of hate and revenge. It follows the life of Heathcliff, a mysterious gypsy, from childhood (about seven years old) to his death in his late thirties. Heathcliff rises in his adopted family and then is reduced to the status of a servant, running away when the young woman he loves decides to marry another. He returns later, rich and educated and sets about gaining his revenge on the two families that he believed ruined his life.
Wuthering Heights is an intense read, full of ghosts, passionate love, and revenge – all very gothic. Heathcliff, is dark and brooding and the archetype for many modern anti-heroes. He’s no prince, as he can be very cruel – the original tortured hero.
If you would like to find out more, go to The Reader’s Guide to Wuthering Heights.