Saturday 25 October 2014

Why reading is so important

Published 25/02/2006 | 00:11

One of the exciting features of this collection is its variety: among the chosen titles are American favourites like The Wizard of Oz and Little Women; books by our own Patricia Lynch and Eilis Dillon; two from the early eighteenth century ( The Swiss Family Robinson and Gulliver's Travels); and of course the late Victorian period and early twentieth century, when children'

One of the exciting features of this collection is its variety: among the chosen titles are American favourites like The Wizard of Oz and Little Women; books by our own Patricia Lynch and Eilis Dillon; two from the early eighteenth century ( The Swiss Family Robinson and Gulliver's Travels); and of course the late Victorian period and early twentieth century, when children's books really came into their own in Britain, are well represented with Treasure Island, The Wind in the Willows, The Happy Prince, The Railway Children and Peter Pan.

In many there's adventure on the high seas, tales of survival in the face of mounting danger; there's suspense and excitement in every one. The fantastic alternative universes of Kate Thompson's Switchers, and of Alice and Peter Pan, will stretch every imagination.

Gerard Whelan's 1916 tale will set youngsters thinking about our cliché-ridden past. So will Marita Conlon-McKenna's book.

Most of all there's humour in abundance, in for example Richmal Crompton's William and in Eoin Colfer's Benny and Omar.

Many of these books are stories that have delighted children for generations. The collection will allow parents relive and share the pleasures of their own childhood reading.

I am delighted to see so many contemporary stories by fine writers on the Irish scene - people like Kate Thompson (now resident in Ireland), Siobhan Parkinson, Eoin Colfer and Gerard Whelan - included in this collection. Some of their stories are classics in the making. All explore issues that regularly command front-page news coverage, but in a form that is amenable to youngsters.

In many cases - such as The Adventures of Alice, The Borrowers and The Railway Children - modern children will have encountered these stories first as television or film adaptations. Now they have the opportunity to compare the written version, which gives free rein to the imagination.

Every story is a delight in its own way, and will appeal to a wide age range. They are just the thing for bedtime reading. Children from about ten will be able to read most of them independently, and younger children will love the ritual of the bed-time story.

The pleasure and the importance of reading cannot be overestimated. It occupies a safe space within which children can explore possibilities that would be too dangerous to pursue in real life. It offers hope: children who for one reason or another are unhappy can lose themselves in stories in which problems are resolved.

It would be a pity if we only considered reading in terms of success at school, but there's no doubt but that it's crucial to performing well. A recent assessment of children's reading ability in Ireland, (Department of Education, 2005) shows that 'pupils who hardly ever or never engage in leisure reading tend to have lower scores than their classmates'.

Dr Mary Shine Thompson is a lecturer in English at St Patrick's College, Dublin, and co-author of the two-volume Studies in Children's Literature (Four Courts Press). Dr Thompson has written jacket notes for every title in the Great Children's Books collection

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