A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
My twelve-year-old daughter came from high school the other week and told me that they would soon be reading Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men in English literature (they’re current reading Animal Farm).
I was shocked. Mainly because I read this during my own English literature lessons in high school THREE DECADES ago.
Don’t get me wrong, Of Mice and Men is a classic, dealing with enduring themes (family, friendship, learning difficulties, rape, morality, honesty, responsibility, love) but has the curriculum seriously not changed in over thirty years? Are they genuinely telling me that since I was at high school there have been written NO ENGLISH CLASSICS SUITABLE FOR YOUNG TEENS?
The YA genre did exist back then, but there were few YA novels. Certainly there were some that I would definitely consider modern classics (Catcher in the Rye and Dragonsinger to name but two) but the choices were much more limited. Now there are so many incredible award-winning YA novels that have been accepted as excellent literature, so why aren’t our schools looking at these to update the curriculum? I’d really like to know.
We want our children to grow up to love literature and yes, there is an argument that many children will never pick up a ‘classic’ outside of school. That the only ‘classics’ they will ever read are those forced on them by an English teacher. But if we want our children to grow to love literature, in year seven and eight (when they are twelve and thirteen) shouldn’t we be introducing them to books they are going to love? There are kids who will be forced to read ‘classics’ in year seven and eight who, as a result, will never pick up a novel again (take my husband as one example who had to read Brighton Rock and decided following that experience that he ‘didn’t like books’).
Why can’t we start them off with Philip Reeves’ Mortal Engines, Or Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking or A Monster Calls?
What about Annabelle Pitcher’s My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece or Tanya Byrne’s Heart Shaped Bruise
What about The Book Thief, Out of Darkness, Code Name Verity, Looking for Alaska?
Some of these books also have films (and I know how much an English class likes watching the film of the book they’re reading). The themes are as deep as those covered by Steinbeck: mortality, death, love, friendship, war, disease, family, the list goes on.
I wanted my daughter to be excited about the book she was going to be reading as an English class. I wanted her to wave it at me, ‘look at what we’re going to be reading’. I wanted her to read ahead because she couldn’t resist not doing so, then to be made to think deeply about how it is written, what the author wanted to say and how they said it, about what the themes meant to her.
Instead she looked at me with confusion in her eyes, telling me she was going to be reading an 81-year-old novel that she has never heard of.