Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen’

The Call to Stop Kids From Reading Books they Actually Enjoy

October 7, 2013

The Hunger Games

At a time when just getting kids to read a book is the stuff of small miracles, why would anyone want to make books less accessible to children. I am sure The Hunger Games will never go down a classic of literature but I really don’t care. The objective of books is to entertain, inspire and transport its readers to distant places, cultures, traditions and experiences.  If the children of the day find that The Hunger Games achieves this goal then its up to us, the educators, to get in touch with them rather than the other way around.

I am a literature major at University. I studies every period of literature dating back from Chaucer onwards. And guess what? I find many so-called classics to be utterly tedious. My tutor was gobsmacked when I told him that I found Robinson Crusoe boring.

“How can you not like Robinson Crusoe? It is the most printed book behind the bible!”

His argument didn’t wash. I am never going to like a book just because it is deemed a classic or it has had multiple reprints.

And the same goes with Shakespeare. People are aghast when I say that Shakespeare should not be a compulsory fixture in the high school curriculum. How many people that strongly believe in studying Shakespeare in High School have a copy of one of his plays on their bedside table? How many of them are ever likely to read Macbeth or Hamlet for pleasure? When is the last time you ever had a deep urge to reread The Tempest?

We are hypocrites if we subject children to the types of books we are glad we no longer have to read ourselves. If we are ever going to get children to read we must employ the same criteria for reading as we have when we search for a book. Our students must find the subject matter topical, interesting, amusing, dramatic and most of all – ENTERTAINING:

Joanna Trollope says children should be taught literary classics in school because they spend too much time reading fantasy books, such as The Twilight Saga. 

The novelist said fantasy teen fiction, such as the hugely popular Hunger Games series, fails to give children an insight into reality or guidance in moral dilemmas. 

The Rector’s Wife author said youngsters should be encouraged to read the likes of Jane Austen, George Eliot and the Bronte sisters.

However, she admitted her 12-year-old grandson loves The Hunger Games, about a post-apocalyptic nation in which two children are selected to compete to the death in an annual televised battle.

Trollope told The Sunday Times: ‘I feel children are missing out on an enormous amount.

‘The consolation to be found in the classics is absolutely infinite and greater than fantasy novels. Fantasy doesn’t relate to the real world.’

The author, who used to be a teacher, said using popular culture can be a useful tool to lead children towards the classics.

She said she gave her class The Beatles lyrics to study in one English poetry class before giving them Robert Frost to read.

Last year, the three Hunger Games books were in the top 10 bestsellers list with more than 2.1million sold.

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Boys and Reading: The Constant Struggle

May 18, 2011

The results of a recent survey found that boys don’t enjoy reading and fail to get past 100 pages of a classroom text.  Should we be surprised?  Boys have been disconnected from reading for years, and the question has to be asked – what have we done about it.

The findings are an indictment on how inflexible we are at altering the way we teach:

Many secondary school boys do not have the stamina to read beyond the 100th page of a book, research suggests.

Teachers also revealed that classics of English literature, such as those by Jane Austen, are putting boys off reading.

Some 70% of the 500 teachers surveyed for publishers Pearson said boys had switched off by the 100 page mark.

This is leading many teachers to ditch longer novels in favour of shorter books, it adds.

Teachers were asked to identify points where boys would switch off in class when novels were being read.

A quarter said that the interest cut-off point happened within the first few pages of a book.

A further 22% said interest waned within the first 50 pages, while a further quarter identified the 100 page mark.

Nearly a third of the teachers questioned said boys were put off before the book had even been opened, if they saw it had more than 200 pages.

According to the research, Shakespeare plays including The Tempest, Macbeth and A Midsummer’s Night Dream were particularly unpopular, as was Steinbeck’s 1930s classic, Of Mice and Men.

The reluctance to read could partly explain the achievement gap between boys and girls.

Last year 85% of 11-year-old girls reached the expected level in English for their age compared to 76% of boys. In reading, the gender gap was even more stark at 79% for girls and 64% for boys.

According to children’s organisation Unesco, the biggest single indicator of a child’s future success at school is whether they read for pleasure.

The research is timed to coincide with the launch of a new series of books called Heroes aimed at secondary school pupils which aims to switch boys back on to reading and get them past the crucial 100-page mark.

Best-selling author Frank Cottrell Boyce, consultant editor on the series, said: “Pleasure can’t be taught. Pleasure can only be shared.”

He added that boys should be started on shorter books.

Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, said its research showed that boys lag behind girls not just in literacy skills, but in the amount they read and in the extent to which they enjoy reading.

“This gets worse as children get older. This is a vital issue and one the National Literacy Trust is working hard to address. More needs to be done to engage boys’ and building on their own interests.”

He added that publishers had a crucial role to play in this.

On the subject of publishers, an author who recently read my yet to be published manuscript, commented that had I made my main character a girl instead of a boy, I would have an easier time convincing publishers to publish the book.  She said that since boys don’t read, a girl would have been a more appropriate choice. The comment shocked me.  At no stage did I ever envisage the book to be strictly a book for boys.  I always thought it would be of universal appeal.  But apparently publishing companies don’t see it that way.

Shakespeare and Steinbeck are wonderful, but were never intended to be ones first foray into literature.  Is it so wrong to choose something of lesser literary acclaim for something more contemporary?  The sad reality is, teachers tend not to gravitate to Steinbeck and Shakespeare for their own leisure reading and don’t have strong connection to the texts the curriculum requires them to teach.  For a teacher to effectively inspire their students to love reading, they must love reading.  For students to read beyond page 100, the teacher needs to do more than set reading homework – they need to show the class how enjoyable and meaningful the book is to them.

When I read my manuscript to kids, I am overwhelmed by how much they enjoy the characters and situations.  I love how they connect with the main character and his issues and are able to relate to what he is going through.  Somebody once asked whether the kids enjoy it, not so much for the quality of the writing, but because the author, who has such a deep connection to the material, reads it out with such enthusiasm and joy.

Maybe so.  But isn’t that the key?  For boys to enjoy reading, they must see that their teacher enjoying it too.  If that means dispense with the classics and let the teacher decide what texts to introduce to the classroom – so be it.


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