Thursday, 23 August 2018

Comics and EBooks "not proper reading"? Picture books too? What craziness are we teaching our kids? A ReadItTorial

Well, Supes doesn't look too happy about this does he!
This week's ReadItTorial jumps on a piece of homework sent home by a (possibly well meaning) teacher, urging kids to get into some 'proper' reading over the holidays.

The original text can be found below:

I'm guessing the intent here was to encourage children to push themselves a little in their reading journeys, perhaps engaging with texts they would normally pass on.

I was actually fine with this right up till the last sentence:

"Comic books, articles, eBooks on phones and children's picture books are not permitted."

Wait...WHAT? What fresh hell is this?

OK I'm obviously going to take issue with the first one. I've loved comics for as long as I've been able to read - possibly even before that, as comics are one of the most visual and approachable methods of beginning any reading journey, and some of the wordless comics can be enjoyed and translated into stories by anyone at any age, regardless of reading ability.

Dismissing comics as 'not proper reading' is, of course, ridiculous. Think of the social and political impact comics can have, dammit the CULTURAL impact of comics and comic-book heroes alone is just incredible. See just how many aspects of society soak up comic culture by proxy, and then consider how you'd engage a reluctant reader who loves movies and TV shows but perhaps hasn't quite got into books and stories yet.

Putting the hex on articles and eBooks (on phones) also puzzled me. Again reluctant readers are far more likely to engage with reading materials on their own terms, whether that means reading short articles in magazines or newspapers or perhaps reading the text in an adventure game on a phone. I do not see the difference between an eBook or any other book so I'm really baffled by the notion that they are in any way less of a reading challenge (particularly as I read an awful lot of my 'grown up non-bloggy' intake on my Kindle now, including comics just to add insult to injury).

Lastly there's a solid kick in the pants for children's picture books. Oh god, where would you even start with that one. Discounting children's picture books as 'not proper reading' again shows a huge walloping chunk of sheer ignorance on the teachers' part here. I would imagine in their head they had a list of titles they would rather steer kids away from but ignored the bigger picture, that picture books have moved on and evolved along with the complex expectations of children and their reading tastes changing generation on generation. Today's picture books can deal with sensitive issues, complex issues, downright controversial and subversive issues in much the same way modern comics do. They can subtly allude to social and political machinations in the real world, their meanings can be downright obvious or beautifully veiled in a story that, at first glance, may seem simple but has onion-like layers of complexity and interpretation.

As a children's book blogger I find this piece of summer homework particularly offensive, again I find the notion of any homework sent home during the long summer vac to be an annoyance rather than a necessity (you have no idea how many tantrums and screaming matches there have been at home because C was sent home with a Summer Work BOOK ffs! A whole workbook with 9 weeks worth of work in it. I just can't even..)

The crux of my annoyance with this, and I suspect the annoyance of a great many people who tweeted about this, is the inference that the best way to get kids reading is to push, prod, demand, force rather than encourage, persuade, engage with or - damn it - just LISTEN to what kids have to say on the subject of their own reading preferences. Turning kids right off reading at an early age with rubbish like this is so utterly stupid that, even with my most objective non-argumentative head on, I just can't see a counter-argument for this kind of utter ridiculousness at all.