There’s been a lot in the press lately about what you should and shouldn’t read, from Gove’s rejigging of GCSE set texts, to Dawkins’ views on Fairy Tales to Ruth Graham’s criticism of adults reading YA. I love books, yet for me nothing threatens this love more than being told what I can and can’t read. English was always my favourite subject ast GCSE and A level, and I didn’t think twice when choosing English Literature as my degree subject. However, that was precisely when it became a chore. Suddenly I had to read a LOT of books in a short space of time, I couldn’t choose any of them, and many of them I disliked. I remember plodding through one dry, never-ending novel, imbibing endless cups of coffee as I forced myself to finish it. Reading was no longer fun, and what’s worse, I stopped reading for pleasure as I simply didn’t have the time.
It was the same when taking piano lessons as a child. I loved playing the piano, but scales and arpeggios sucked the love right out of it, till finally I refused to take exams altogether. Of course I understand both that academic courses need to have set texts, and that dutifully practicing my scales and arpeggios might have made me a better pianist, but I wanted to play music and songs I enjoyed – I wanted playing the piano to be fun, not a boring chore, and by ditching the grades, my love of the piano remains intact.
Likewise, I rediscovered reading for pleasure once the constraints of set texts had been lifted, and consequently flinch at being told what I should and shouldn’t read for pleasure in my own leisure time.
As it so happens, I write exactly the kind of stories that have caused such controversy lately – Fairy Tales (or rather, twisted versions) and YA “crossover” novels that I hope both adults and teens alike will enjoy. Consequently, it may come as no surprise that I believe that we shouldn’t feel guilty for reading fairy tales or YA.
And here are some reasons why.
1) They excite and expand children’s imagination – in a world of magic ANYTHING can happen!
2) They introduce children to the elements of story-building: setting, character, plot etc the building bricks for their own future stories.
3) Fairy Tales teach children valuable lessons disguised as fantastical, enjoyable stories: don’t talk to strangers; don’t lie; don’t judge by appearances. They also provide a moral compass, teaching us about the importance of love, honor, sacrifice, hope, courage, hard work, and justice.
4) They provide a “safe” environment in which to introduce children to real-life darker issues such as child cruelty, abduction etc
5) Fairy Tales simultaneously cross cultural boundaries and give us a common language. Pretty much every child knows the story of Cinderella, despite cultural variations.
1) Teens are some of the most discerning readers out there. They have no time for padding, lazy plotting or pages of description – their attention span is arguably too short. Consequently, YA novels are among the most fast-paced, action packed, page-turning books out there.
2) They engage with important, relevant and often controversial issues, without being heavy-handed or preachy.
3) YA goes to some dark places, but always retains an element of optimism. You may weep buckets by the end of a YA novel, but seldom will you finish reading and sink into depression. That’s not to say that they all have happy endings – far from it – but on the whole the reader closes the book feeling satisfied.
4) If you’re the parent of a teen, reading YA can be a bonding experience. Relating to teenagers as an adult can be tricky at the best of times, but YA allows an inlet into the psyche of the teen. Read the books they love, discuss them, debate with them, or use them as a pathway into a conversation about topics or issues that otherwise may perhaps seem too heavy or awkward.
5) Because YA is an age group rather than a genre, it allows for huge diversity in content, theme and even structure. YA books can be contemporary, paranormal, historical, dystopian, fantasy, mystery, horror, science fiction, romantic, written in verse, stream-of-consciousness, or even graphic novel. But more than that, they can be more than one of these at the same time.
Katie Dale is the author of YA novels SOMEONE ELSE'S LIFE and LITTLE WHITE LIES and the Orchard Crunchies series FAIRY TALE TWISTS