On happy endings

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As a child, I had two favourite kinds of books: those that were funny and those that were sad but had happy endings. My favourite author until I was well into my teens was Jacqueline Wilson, who definitely fell into the second of these categories and I loved her for the gritty reality in which her characters lived. I remember progressing quite suddenly from Pippi Longstocking and Paddington Bear onto The Suitcase Kid and being under the distinct impression that I’d moved onto something that in a wonderful way was only semi-fiction.

In many ways the world that she wrote about was so close to real life that the backdrop wasn’t ‘fictional’ to me. I’ve often tried to pin down how she managed this and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the way that she portrays her characters’ emotions. In The Suitcase Kid, Andy spoke about her parents’ divorce, about feeling left out from her mum’s new family, about problems at school… Her life certainly improved towards the end of the book, but her parents didn’t magically get back together, and as such, there was no traditional happy ending.

Yesterday, Kevin Brooks was awarded the prestigious Carnegie Medal for The Bunker Diary, his fictional account of a boy who is kidnapped and held hostage in a bunker. He said: “There is a school of thought that no matter how dark or difficult a novel is, it should contain at least an element of hope. As readers, children – and teens in particular – don’t need to be cosseted with artificial hope that there will always be a happy ending. They want to be immersed in all aspects of life, not just the easy stuff.”

But what is most interesting is that Brooks also said that he felt he could have got his book published much earlier (It took ten years from when he first started) if he had changed the ending. The only reason why he didn’t was because he felt that it would have been dishonest. Jacqueline Wilson has frequently spoken about her initial difficulties in getting published back in the 1980s due to the difficult subject matter that she handled and the fact that her books didn’t have happy endings. In the three decades that have passed have things changed in this regard? What are your thoughts?

My favourite books without a happy ending:
– Malorie Blackman Noughts and Crosses
– Patrick Ness A Monster Calls
– John Boyne The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
– Jacqueline Wilson The Illustrated Mum
– John Green The Fault in our Stars

Encouraging reading for pleasure

I recently read an article on The Guardian website, which outlined the findings of a recent study on reading – results showed that reading for pleasure is more important to a child’s educational achievement than their family’s wealth or social class. But my friends who are teachers frequently stress the difficulty that they have with encouraging pupils to read – and here I don’t mean reading the set texts required by the curriculum or for an exam; I mean reading for the sheer enjoyment of it. So what more can be done to promote reading amongst children of all ages?

At the Nosy Crow conference last September, I met Tracey Corderoy, a fantastic children’s author who travels around the country organising ‘activity days’ for her young readers. She showed us how she would literally bring her stories to life by carrying costumes (allowing children to dress up as characters from her books), arts and crafts materials and other props to her interactive book days held at Waterstones around the country. The results so far have been more than encouraging – children are engaged and excited. Younger siblings often come along and get carried away in the fun of it themselves.  It would be great if more authors followed Tracy’s lead and met their readers face to face.

The National Literacy Trust does a lot of work to promote reading amongst children and adults. I’ve recently heard about their ‘paired reading’ campaign in which older children are partnered with younger or less confident readers to not only help them with reading but also share their favourite books.  I think the key issue that needs to be tackled here is the perception of frequent readers as bookworms or nerds – reading doesn’t have to be an isolated activity. Much can be done to make it sociable and fun.

The Reading Agency is another charity which coordinates Chatterbooks groups run in libraries and schools. On their website, there are tips on setting up reading groups for teenagers and details of their Instragrammer in Residence project which involve authors making inspirational videos about books of their choice – a great innovative idea!

But perhaps the most challenging task for teachers is encouraging parents to help their children with reading. Often, the parents themselves don’t enjoy reading, or aren’t sure how to spark up their child’s interest in books. The Discover Centre is a story museum which has some engaging tips to help families enjoy books. I’ve also found that children’s librarians are a great source of inspiration – an example is Janet Pamela Noble, who writes regular reviews of the latest exciting children’s fiction, absorbing both parents and children in her love of reading.

If you have any of your own tips on encouraging reading for pleasure, please share!