This question resulted from a discussion about student literacy skills this week. The inevitable view was that children would learn and understand so much more, and write more effectively if they made reading part of their daily routine. I was also blessed to have an encounter with a graduate from last year who made it very clear that having been encouraged to read quality literature helped him grow in all aspects of his learning.
So, what does make the perfect children’s book? Young readers generally prefer adventure, silliness and a few good scares to soppy sermons about love and inclusivity. As any bedtime-story veteran knows, books with a heavy-handed moral message just don’t strike a chord with little ones. Just as importantly, they're more likely to put parents to sleep before their youngsters. And this is key: the perfect children’s book must appeal to adults as well as kids, in equal proportion. They’re the ones reading it after all – night after night after night...
I loved everything by Julia Donaldson and Lynley Dodd. I loved Chris Riddell's Ottoline, Jeff Kinney's Wimpy Kid and Jeff Brown's Flat Stanley. I loved Harry Hill’s Tim the Tiny Horse.
More than any of them, I loved Hippos Go Berserk! by Sandra Boynton, a simple counting story about a lonely hippo who invites a couple of pals over and ends up having a wild house party which quickly descends into debauchery, mass destruction and full-on anarchy. I adored that book as much as my kids did, and it made me realise that full-on anarchy really is the sweet spot when it comes to appealing to children and adults.
Maurice Sendak, the author of Where the Wild Things Are, observed that "children are tough, though we tend to think of them as fragile". Sendak saw something barbaric in kids but felt that was missing from most of their books. He also said, "I don't write for children, I just write”, which is perhaps crucial to his enduring popularity.
And here’s another question: can someone please tell me how to persuade a 16- and 13-year-old to put down their phones for just five minutes and pick up a book again?
Finally, we should take time to read the Bible. Remember that the Bible shows us God's character and provides us God's revelation of himself to his people. Regularly reading God's word reorients our thinking so that we can grow in maturity, which is part of the Christian calling (Ephesians 4:14–16; Romans 12:1–2).