"I continue to dream about 99p books for children, in supermarkets"

"I continue to dream about 99p books for children, in supermarkets"

Dr Ger Graus OBE is the first Global Director of Education at KidZania, where children aged 4 to14 can experience the world of work through role-play. KidZania now has a presence in 24 cities on 5 continents, and Graus has been at the heart of innovation and project development such as 'KidZania World Online', 'KidZtalk', 'KidZania Careers Week';  the education ‘Think-Tank’, 'Ambassador Schools' and independent evaluations by, amongst others the University of Cambridge. 

Before this, he was the founding Chief Executive of The Children's University, a multiple-award winning international charity providing 5 to 14-year-olds with exciting and innovative learning opportunities outside school hours. He started the charity after teaching across the UK for over a decade, and was awarded an OBE for services to children in 2014.

Last September, Graus gave a rousing keynote at the Bookseller Children's Confernce on how publishers can (and must) better empower children to achieve self-fulfilment and social mobility. Four months later, we caught up with him to reassess the landscape and make a ralying call for the year ahead.

It’s four months since your keynote . Did your conversations with publishers there make you feel heartened or worried about the future of children’s books?

Both. Heartened because of the enthusiasm from so many and because of their willingness to consider the child rather than the industry itself. We are now engaging globally with The Book Depository for example, trialling KidZania ‘LitFests’ and we are connecting with a good few publishers too, from Abrams & Chronicle to DK, and from Pan Macmillan to Hay Festivals as event-focused organisations. There is still a big debate to be had though – with action to follow – about books in homes and their affordability. I continue to dream about 99p books for children, in supermarkets. If not, books will forever be the domain of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ will continue to be left behind.

What does your latest research suggest about children and books?

Most of it is common sense and a lot of teachers in more deprived areas for example could have told you all this a long time ago. My main mantra is still that children can only aspire to what they know exists, and that applies to the worlds of books too. Not just in terms of reading, but in terms of owning and knowing what jobs and futures can be connected to the book world. We will continue our research with hopefully India next. Although I must confess that I am increasingly becoming impatient – it is time to walk the talk!

In your opinion, what (if any) emerging tech innovation has the greatest opportunity to impact on the future of children and reading?

The internet. We must remember that it is not the innovation itself but how we as educators, including parents, empower our children to use it. We always rave about technology's potential and blame it for all that goes wrong … time to grow up!

Do you think books with digital features (accompanying apps, AR, videos etc) will draw in a new generation, or not?

No, not new readers - but it will excite existing readers and those who influence them to become so.

If you were creating a library of the future, what features would it have?

Books. Technology to support. Music and headphones, beanbags and warm radiators. And good coffee. In other words, replicate what makes us comfortable. Oh, and no ‘Psssst Silence’ signs.

What three things would you like to see publishers change in 2018?

I would like to see 99p books in Poundlands and Poundshops. Children should be able to buy their own books without having to rely on the generosity, or not, of their grown-ups; this is about access in terms of geography and price.

Once a year, all books that normally may get pulped should be given for free to all schools with 40% or more free school meals. In turn, the schools have to make sure that these books end up in the homes of the children who don’t have any and encourage the parents, grandparents and others to read with their children.

A project to involve children in the book world: online recommendations by children for children – a Trip Advisor for books by children; joint online book writing programmes for children; children in schools regularly meeting people from the book world and not just once a year.

In one line, how can we get more kids reading more books?

Try harder and better. Focus on the children and not grown-ups, and make reading a democratic entitlement. Sorry, that’s two sentences - but I think it’s worth it!