Well-meaning adults can destroy a child’s love of reading by giving them “worthy-but-dull books”, according to author Neil Gaiman.
There is no such thing as a “bad book” for children, he suggested, arguing it is “snobbery” to dismiss authors such as Enid Blyton and horror writer RL Stine as bad for young people.
But children will be convinced that reading is uncool, or unpleasant, if they are stopped from reading what they enjoy, or forced to read “the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian ‘improving’ literature”, he said.
Giving the second annual Reading agency lecture at the Barbican in central London, Gaiman, who is best known for novels including American Gods, Coraline and The Graveyard Book, said the simplest way to ensure children are literate is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is pleasurable by letting them read the books they enjoy.
“I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children,” he said.
“Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of children’s books, a genre perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. I’ve seen it happen over and over; Enid Blyton was declared a bad author, so was RL Stine, so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy.
“It’s tosh. It’s snobbery and it’s foolishness.
“There are no bad authors for children that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories.
“Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is the gateway drug to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you.”
Mr Gaiman also used his speech to talk about the importance of libraries, saying that another way to destroy a child’s love of reading is to ensure there are no books around, and to give youngsters nowhere to read.
Libraries are places of information, used not just for borrowing books but other services such as using the internet for free, he said.