Relaxed reading

<p>A few months ago, I was surprised to read in the <i>Times </i>that Michael Gove, then the Tory shadow spokesman on education, planned to get in touch with Michael Morpurgo- and myself to advise on which books every student in the UK should read. He was searching for &quot;a traditional education with children sitting in rows, learning the kings and queens of England, the great works of literature . . . &quot;</p>
<p>Well, I'm still waiting for the telephone to ring although I'm hoping it doesn't. God knows which books I'd suggest, particularly- as one of the triumphs of 13 years of New Labour is that one-fifth of students leave school barely able to read more than the <i>Sun </i>and what would be the point&nbsp; of recommending, say, <i>Great Expectations </i>to them?</p>
<p>And Gove's view of life does seem worryingly retro . . . children in rows and that sort of thing. Is he suggesting a return to the &quot;Dead Author Society&quot; that existed before Rowling, when the majority of writers foisted on children by well-meaning relatives were more or less dead? W E Johns, Enid Blyton, R L Stephenson etc? Fortunately, there are some modern classics&mdash;David Almond's <i>Skellig </i>and Morpurgo's <i>Kensuke's Kingdom</i> spring to mind. But these are already in most schools. In fact the national curriculum is pleasingly broad and all-encompassing.</p>
<p>I would say that the problem is not which books to read but when and how to read them. And for that matter, why. Every argument about the need to get kids reading centres on the educational/social benefits and seems to forget that reading a good book is one of life's great pleasures. So why not more free periods in school for reading? Why not more books read from cover to cover for fun rather than filleted down for the next exam? We tell children that reading is somehow good for them but we never say the same to adults. Just flick through this edition of <i>The Bookseller</i>. How many books are being promoted for their cultural value?</p>
<p>I'm not even sure that government should be too directly- involved in literacy. Gordon Brown's &quot;National Year of Reading&quot; made good headlines but what did it really achieve compared to the quiet, unflagging, enthusiasm of organisations such as the Federation of Children's Books? The NYR's October theme was &quot;Cultural, personal and local identity&quot;. That must have thrilled the under-fives.</p>
<p>So, Michael, I'd relax a little when it comes to reading. Give them the time, give them the resources and children will find their own books. And maybe you should let them sit in circles. I can't see it will do them any harm.<br />