It kicked off with a funeral of a friend and colleague, who passed away much too young. The funeral was poignant and beautiful, capturing the true essence of an inspiring, remarkable and lovely woman, who spoke to us all from beyond the grave, in her father’s voice as he read out a piece of her writing. The extract was about how, as a very young child, she immersed herself in stories (specifically Roald Dahl’s) using them to give her the strength and fortitude to battle very serious childhood disease, and how they shaped the woman she became. It was a deeply moving piece, not only as it’ll be the last of her words I’ll ever hear, but also because it goes straight to the heart of why stories and books for children are so important.
Stories and books are more than just some words printed on paper that are bound between the covers. They have power. Power to empower the readers. Power to challenge and change the reader’s perspective. Power to increase intelligence and empathy. They can mould people, and when those people are young children, they can have an impact on how they develop, and therefore on whom they are and will grow to be.
With this, the people wielding the pen, keyboard and editors hats, have responsibility too. A responsibility to write the best books we can. A responsibility to write and publish varied and diverse books, so that every child can find the stories that give them strength. For some it’ll be Dahl, but for others it’ll be books with protagonists from other ethnicities, or disabled heroes and heroines, and so on. A responsibility to publish accessible books, one’s for challenged readers, ones for those who are gifted readers but aren’t quite ready for the Young Adult titles, and all the children in between. We have responsibility to ensure all children can have access to books, by keeping libraries open and retaining school librarians, and maybe publishing some books at smaller prices, like the WDB titles.
There have been a lot of discussions about celebrity authors being marketed so heavily and crowding the bookshelves in shops, pushing out other titles, and although I know publishing is also a business, it seems dangerous and irresponsible to restrict children’s choices in books. Books can help young minds in many ways, but not all minds are alike. Give children access and variety, then more children will become readers, and more reader means more book sales, and crucially more children finding their strength and themselves in the stories.
My week was a roller coaster, it started with a funeral, it ended with a birth; a brand new nephew. Although this nephew is far from the first child to call me Aunt Sally (cue – Worzle Gummidge references), his arrival hammered the point home. Stories and books have power to shape young growing minds. So I, as a writer and occasional reviewer and bookseller, have a responsibility to ensure that there is enough accessible choice of books for those new minds to pick from. I will continue to write (and you know someday, even get published) and I will continue to champion diverse and varied books.