No such thing as a bad book

Since my last post, I have been re-reading the books of my childhood. It has been an interesting experience, because, as an adult, it is clear to me that some of them are not particularly well-written. Yet I still feel an emotional attachment to them, because they are a link to the little girl I was all those years ago.

In her blog post, The Stories We Need, Terri Windling also recalls the books she loved as a child. As a writer and editor, she acknowledges that they were perhaps not the best books, “so cloyingly sweet, so heavy-handedly moral” (Windling, 2016). However, they were the books she was drawn to; books that filled an emotional need within her. She says she took what she needed from them and, in return, they made her the person and writer she is today.

Enid Blyton has frequently been criticised for the quality of her writing

In a 2013 lecture for The Reading Agency, Neil Gaiman examines the issue of quality in children’s literature, stating, “I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children” (Gaiman, 2013). He discusses how, over the years, genres and authors have been criticised for being unsuitable for children. Comics have been blamed for “fostering illiteracy” (Gaiman, 2013). Enid Blyton and R. L. Stine are among those who have been branded poor writers. Roald Dahl was denounced by the book critic Eleanor Cameron for his writing of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with its “phoney presentation of poverty and its phoney humour, which is based on punishment with overtones of sadism” (Cameron, in Mangan, 2014). Despite these views, generations of children have loved the work of these authors and, for many, their books have resulted in a love of reading.

Despite adult criticism, Roald Dahl’s books have always been popular with children

According to Neil Gaiman, adults often seek to discourage children from reading particular genres and authors, because they don’t approve of them. As he points out, in order for children to learn to read and to learn to love reading, they need to find books they enjoy, be able to access those books and be allowed to read them. This is something we need to be aware of as librarians and teachers. It is important we don’t judge children’s choices based on our own preferences. Equally important is allowing them access to the books they enjoy through our library collections. Maybe we need to remember the books we loved as children and consider how we would have felt if someone had told us not to read them or had taken them away from us.

Comics are often frowned upon by librarians and teachers


Comics! by Brian Wilkins: CC BY-NC 2.0

By viewing certain titles, genres or authors unfavourably, we run the risk of turning children off books when we want them to find a way into them. I agree with Neil Gaiman; the most important thing is to get children reading. And if that means reading books that I may not like or choose to read, so be it. They are not going to be ‘harmed’ by poorly written books, despite what some people believe. But they will miss out on all that reading offers if they turn away from books after being told that what they are reading is rubbish.


4 thoughts on “No such thing as a bad book

  1. Pingback: Reading for pleasure in schools | Tales From The Children's Library

  2. Pingback: Libraries and reading: Part I | Tales From The Children's Library

  3. Pingback: Happy birthday, Harry Potter! | Tales From The Children's Library

  4. Pingback: Getting children to read | Tales From The Children's Library

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