Sunday 15 April 2012
The Rights of the Reader by Daniel Pennac. Reviewed by Ann Turnbull
I love this book. It makes me want to punch the air and shout, "Yes!" on every page. In a way it states the obvious: that children will learn to enjoy reading if you read to them and share your enjoyment with them - and demand nothing in return. No tests. No questions.
Pennac shows how some children are made to feel failures early on and develop a fear of books that can last for life; while others - the ones who learn how the system works - can end up experiencing novels as things to be analysed and talked about rather than as stories to fall in love with. "What we need to understand," he says, "is that books weren't written so that my son/my daughter/young people could write essays about them, but so that they could read them if they really wanted to."
Light and lively, with short chapters, this book takes us on a journey. Along the way we hear imaginary (but oh so familiar) conversations between parents and small children; between parents and their friends, worrying about their slightly older children's lack of interest in reading; between a despairing teacher and his sensible wife. And finally we hear the excited voices of a class of stroppy teenagers discovering that books contain stories they want to read.
At the end Pennac sets out ten 'Rights of the Reader', among them The Right Not to Read (and he points out that many good, happy and successful people have chosen not to read for pleasure); The Right to Skip and The Right to Dip In (essential, especially for children, and much better than reading simplified versions of classics).
Last comes The Right to be Quiet. Pennac says, "The rare adults who gave me the gift of reading have always stepped back and refrained from asking what I understood. And of course I talked to those people about what I'd read."
Published by Walker Books, and translated from the French by Sarah Adams, this is a handsome paperback with flaps and a silky finish to the cover. And it's illustrated throughout by Quentin Blake. What more could you ask?
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