Fiona Cooney examines why children's relationships with books shouldn't be compromised by bans and restrictions.
As a part-time bookseller, I have the pleasure of seeing kids come into the shop where I work to browse for books, to look for the next book in the series that they love and most recently, proudly hand over their book token in exchange for a special World Book Day book.
In a world that is constantly being upgraded to new technologies, it is heart-warming to see kids excited about books; developing a love for reading at a young age is invaluable and kids are encouraged by teachers and parents to pick up the habit from very young ages.
As well as gaining good literacy skills and education from books, for many children, books are a way to learn about friendship, to learn to look at things from a different perspective, and to find comfort in the pages of a story that brings them into an entirely different world for them to explore.
Kings College school in Wimbledon in the UK have banned books by popular children’s authors, including Eoin Colfer, Robert Muchamore and Anthony Horowitz, from their library that principal Andrew Halls described as “so simplistic, brutal or banal” that children shouldn’t be exposed to them in school.
Before I started secondary school, I was sent a welcome package from the school, including the first book in the Cherub series, ‘The Recruit’ by Robert Muchamore, which I read and loved; it made me look forward to starting school, so I could get the rest of the series from the library. When parents come into the book store where I work and ask for recommendations for their kids, I recommend the authors that have been banned by this school, particularly Rick Riordan, Derek Landy and Eoin Colfer; they write exciting, adventurous stories that kids enjoy, and that, more importantly, make kids enjoy reading.
The principal that banned these books is the same principal that introduced ‘empathy lessons’ for year seven (fifth class in Ireland) in an attempt to counteract the “21st century fixation with the virtual reality of the screen” that he says is “having a devastating effect on a fundamental human quality: empathy”.
These implementations are meant to be separate initiatives, but it seems to me that entertaining, humorous books like those of Derek Landy and Eoin Colfer are ways in which kids can escape from the ‘virtual reality’ of technology. That after a day of reading books that are deemed ‘appropriate’, they may want to then explore the adventure in an action book by Robert Muchamore.
It seems so easy to say that kids ‘should’ read books that have deeper meaning; ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time’ and ‘Good Night Mr Tom’ were given as examples by principal Andrew Halls, and of course, these books are important and books like these are on school curriculum. I studied ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ by John Boyne for my Junior Cert and it was a compelling read, but so was “The Recruit” when I read it; in two completely different ways but ways that are nonetheless significant.
Some children only have access to books from their school library, and though this particular school is private and may not have this problem, it is possible that other schools could follow
these footsteps, and some kids won’t be able to decide for themselves what kind of books they like, as it will then be enforced upon them.
As an educator and as a person who has the power to make these decisions, there is a responsibility to promote open-mindedness and choice for kids to develop their own individual taste; after all it is paramount that kids are reading, if we try to censor how they do that, it could reduce their interest in reading altogether.