Sunday, 10 October 2010

What Do Children Read?

It's the Muse Online Conference this week and while browsing through the list of workshops, I was drawn to Writing For Children. I still have the stories I wrote for my own children, but before I even think about trying to do something with them, I need to know  what children between the ages of seven to eleven want to read.

Tastes and expectations change, especially with the phenomenon of Harry Potter. Children are more sophisticated, more technologically savvy and know more about the world than I did. Do all eight-year-olds want to be vampire slayers now?

When I was a child, eons ago, [well if I don't say it, someone else will], my parents couldn't afford many toys, computers didn't exist, nor did the mobile phone and television was only for rich people.  [No I'm not making this up!]  What did my mother do to entertain me? She taught me to read: everything from billboards to advertising on the side of buses, in Tube carriages and on shop signs. I could read before I went to school and haven't stopped - literally.

I loved magical lands as a child, 'The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe, 'Magic Faraway Tree,'  'Alice in Wonderland,' as well as adventures where children could do what they wanted, like, 'Swallows and Amazons', 'Famous Five Stories', and 'Mallory Towers'.  Stories where adults barely got a look in, anything was possible and impromptu picnics happened every couple of hours. 

Modern children, it seems, are two easily distracted to be impressed by the simple pleasure of sitting down in a quiet room with a book. It's too slow, not stimulating enough, and cannot keep their short attention span when almost all children in restaurants have personal DVD players so they won't disturb their parents' lunch.

How does a children's writer encourage a child to read? Do children still like fantasy, with magic and fantastic creatures who take them into secret worlds? Or do they want a gritty, modern protagonist who lives in a suburb and tackles minor crime due to a disillusionment with the modern police? Where teachers are addressed by their first name and boyfriends are de rigeur for girls of eight?  Would my stories have a place in a modern child's world? Maybe not.


India Drummond said...

My son has been stealing my books since he was about 12, and he realised that I like sci-fi and fantasy novels. I did have to snatch away a few thrillers I thought a bit too gruesome for him, but overall, he likes a lot of what I like. I couldn't be prouder. (He doesn't get the whole 'YA' thing either.)

Talli Roland said...

I think children enjoy lots of things - it all depends on what they're exposed to. If their parents plonk them in front of the TV, well... they probably aren't going to be big readers! But if reading is encouraged too, there's a better chance!