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Writing on the Wing

I have discovered I can write columns and blogs in airports, answer emails waiting in line for a taxi; compose speeches at 2.00 am … all I suspect a necessary part of being a Laureate for two years, keeping the precious non-work times for family, friends and writing books, where it’s necessary to vanish for a while into the past (or future) and well as to focus absolutely on the present.

I’d expected the work. I hadn’t expected the freedom as Laureate of being able to talk about all of Australian literature, and the power of books for kids, instead of being expected to talk about my own work.

There has also been the privilege of hearing far more of the vast range of projects for kids; meeting the most wonderful people; but, also, this year, hearing from kids too. The last quarter of a century has been full of questions from kids.

Question 1. Where do you get your ideas?

Question 2. What inspired you to be a writer?

This year, I’m asking kids questions in return:

Do you like reading?

Why not?

The answer every time has been, ‘Books are boring;’ and when I ask, ‘What ones have you read lately?’ the kids are right. The books they have been given are very boring indeed.

The next question I often ask is, ‘Who watches Game of Thrones? Every hand in the audience goes up, even if the kids are as young as eight. And, no, I’m not saying I think Game of Thrones is suitable for eight-year-olds. But this is what they’re watching, even if, in many cases, it has been a pirated version seen on a friend’s laptop. (I’ve asked about that, too.)

Compare most chapter books for eight to ten-year-old kids with Game of Thrones. Which would youfind more satisfying?

Few young kids can read fluently enough to read books that they find really satisfying. Yes, there are many simply written and very clever books, like Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton’s Tree House, series that kids adore with clever humour which – no coincidence here – adults find hilarious too. But most simple books for kids are exactly that. Simple.

The answer? Look for simply written books that have complex themes, rich characters, are exciting, powerful or hilarious and, if possible, all at once. If a book bores you as well as the child, remove it from the kid’s shelf.

And read to them. Read and read and read. Every school needs an adult reading a BIG book – big in number of pages, big in ideas – to kids every lunch time. (And I bet many then want to borrow the book to read more.)

Don’t stop reading to your own kids once they learn to read either, not until they pick up Lord of the Rings with confidence.


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