… anywhere is a good place to read if you want to. These were all the same journey home this afternoon!
That’s my boy 🙂
… anywhere is a good place to read if you want to. These were all the same journey home this afternoon!
That’s my boy 🙂
There’s a song I used to love, twelve years ago when my husband and I started going out. It’s Words, originally I believe by the BeeGees but in ’99 when Andrew and I met it had just been covered by *shameful whisper* Boyzone. It has lovely lyrics, but it’s the refrain that’s the killer:
It’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away.
As any writer or reader, aspiring or established, knows, it’s not “only” words and that line perfectly sums up the power of words – they can take someone’s heart away. Hold that thought.
Last week Daniel learned to read. He’s been desperate to for a while, sitting poring over his picture books and deciphering letter by letter but not quite managing to turn individual letters into words. This week something clicked, the missing magical ingredient I guess. I’m still trying to catch it so I can bottle it, sell it, and retire. Anyway, It clicked and we sat together and he read me a whole story by himself. What happened was he wanted to sit near me while I was making tea so I gave him an early reader I’d got out from the library in case he could manage the odd word. I thought I’d have to help him out frequently but at least he could have a go and then I was on hand to do so. Instead, I stopped what I was doing and listened in growing wonder as he read word after word without my help. Some of them he stopped and decoded sound by sound, others he read aloud fluently as if he’d been reading for weeks instead of minutes.
He then read the same book to his daddy three times and searched out the Oxford Reading Tree At Home books I had ready for after Christmas. That night, our house was all about Words.
The thing is, I had a bit of an epiphany reflecting on the episode. While he was reading I kept asking him what was happening to make sure he was understanding what he was reading rather than just speaking aloud without taking anything in (he was, the little star). That’s when something I’d suspected was really borne in on me.
It’s “only” words.
It’s the Power of Words. The letters didn’t matter. He could recognise individual letters but they were powerless without being turned into words. Being able to read means being able to turn black squiggles on a page into a story and characters and conflict. He has that power now.
He had power over me with the words he was using. He had me asking what was happening, wondering what was going to happen next, and he LOVED it. Instead of being spellbound by a story, he was the one casting the spell because he could read the words.
Writers have that power over someone else every time a reader picks up their work and is caught by it. We love having that power over people and making them think “wait, but what happens next…?” I think it’s actually a little bit addictive. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility etc, not to mention great guilt, great big whopping holes in self-confidence, but those things are part of the deal and really, it seems like a fair price to pay for the power of one day dreaming that a child or a teenager somewhere is reading my words, and my words are taking their heart away.
I’m off to add some more words, perfectly packaged in books, to Daniel’s Christmas gift list. Have a wonderful Christmas everyone!
Having just read yet another diatribe about ebooks – along the lines of real books smell lovely and feel lovely and I love secondhand bookshops and is the real book dead? I don’t think so – I went away, had a quick seethe, and have returned to calmly put down a couple of my thoughts on ebooks.
So. Deep breath…
Yes, printed books look and feel lovely. I don’t have much of a sense of smell but it seems to be a general consensus that they smell lovely too. No argument from me so far. Secondhand bookshops? Fabulous. One of my favourite places in the country is Barter Books in Alnwick which is a real treasure trove, and an experience in itself. I was delighted to spend a lovely day there as part of my thirtieth birthday celebration, and found a rare copy of the story of my hometown’s co-operative movement, which I would never even have known about. Plus the shop itself is simply amazing with a mural that any booklover will gaze at for hours.
BUT. But but but. I imagine that at some point in the dim and distant past someone somewhere said “You know, these beautiful parchments that these monks are spending hours illuminating and painstakingly writing out are so beautiful and they smell so lovely and they’re so nice to handle and that secondhand manuscript shop is such fun to browse through, it’s a shame to replace them with that modern new-fangled printing press.” And presumably someone else said “yes, BUT this modern new-fangled printing press will make books cheaper to make and sell and will open up access to reading and writing to thousands more people. That’s got to be a good thing, right?” I say presumably, as otherwise I guess we’d still be writing on parchment.
You know what? Ebooks make books cheaper to write and read and buy and sell and open up reading and writing, or at least make them more reachable, for millions of people. More people will read and write books than might have otherwise happened. Yes, that means there will be a load of rubbish done too, but people are having a go – doesn’t that count for something? I’m reading books that I just couldn’t afford if I had to buy printed ones (and I do still use my library, before people shout at me. A lot). If you ask me, the real death of the book would have been if there WEREN’T ebooks, as prices of printed books, distribution, discounts, etc etc etc would rise so that more and more people would be priced out of the market and books would have returned to being a luxury item. In my very humble and personal opinion with no publishing expertise at all.
And while we’re sort of hovering around the subject, please DON’T use the term ‘real books’ with regard to printed books. It’s the content that makes it a book, not the material. If we’re going to be snobby about it, there’s plenty of books I’d say weren’t real books because, frankly, the content is dire. Printed on paper or screen.
And the gatekeeper thing? I think I do agree that we need gatekeepers to help sort out the really good books and push them forward. I know I do, in the end, want to be published by a publishing house although who knows what will happen in the future, and don’t forget that I’ve done my own short kindle book (hint hint). BUT. Just say you’re browsing the kindle store. Yes, there are probably thousands of books you won’t come across because of the MILLIONS on there and that’s a shame. The thing is, we’re not living in an age where if you make a discovery about a book you really enjoyed you have to handwrite a dozen notes and get the footman to jog around to each of your friends’ houses to tell them about it. The means by which we actually have all of these books swamping the store, the little thing called the INTERNET, is also the means to spread the word about books you enjoy. I have 1300 followers on twitter, some of whom will read this, and retweet it to however many thousand followers they have, or hundreds, or tens, or even three followers. Whatever. The point is, in minutes I can tell people what I think of x book and more people will hear about it than I can shake a stick at.
Nicola Morgan did a blog post this morning about a fantastic-sounding book called Florence and Giles. Within minutes not only had I bought it but at least three other people that I saw in my twitter stream. The books are out there, Scully. You just have to know where to look.
Now, I’ve got to say that not all books work as ebooks. Coffee-table books, those beautiful tomes with gorgeous glossy photos and artwork just aren’t the same on screen, as technology stands at the minute. Some books relying on typography or texture. Some reflective or devotional books, arty books, books that use layout creatively. Not to say they never will be, just not yet. And I do still prefer to sit down and read a picture book with my toddlers.
But who actually decided that it was one or the other? This isn’t VHS and Betamax. Print books and ebooks can co-exist, as long as we don’t descend to silly, can’t-be-bothered so-called arguments that end in a very dismissive and snooty Is the real book dead? I don’t think so.
Is the real book dead? Give me a break.
You might be forgiven for assuming that the first words I’m talking about are Emily’s. But no.
Daniel has been astounding us lately with his progress in writing. A couple of weeks ago he showed us how good he was at writing numbers – he did 1, 2, 3 and within a couple of days he’d mastered 4 and 5 too and was making a good stab at 6. To be honest, I’d sort of assumed that he’d read before writing. I had a idea, I’ve no idea where I got it from, that reading was easier. He has been able to recognise individual letters for a while but not string them together, sounding them out to make a word. We’re practicing breaking words down, and ‘something beginning with …’ games but he’s happy just playing around with sounds for now, and while I like to push him a little I don’t want to put him off wanting to read and write so I work on the principle that he’ll do it when the pieces fall into place in his head.
So I got the biggest shock this morning when he called me over to show me this, that he’d done on his blackboard:
Do you know what it says? I’ll tell you. It says ‘lollipop’. He knew that ‘lollipop’ has a’s and o’s and l’s in and he put them together. Heck, he even knew (guessed? maybe, maybe not) that it should have two l’s together and one by itself.
I suggested that it should have a ‘p’ in:
I didn’t even know he could do ‘p’. Now if you read it backwards it actually sounds a bit like ‘lollipop’.
He tried another word: OCLO which he decided said ‘Grandad’. I said it was really good, and also looked a lot like ‘COLD’ –C-O-L-D. So he wrote this:
…and spelled it out for me. C-O-L-D.
Is it just me, or has he been holding out on me?!
I DO know that I’ve heard somewhere that a big difference between boys’ learning and girls’ learning is that boys often appear to be making much slower progress than they actually are because they internalise the learning, and are reluctant to demonstrate what they can do until they know that they can do it, whereas girls a) show off more and b) are less afraid of making mistakes. It certainly seems to be true of Daniel here.
On a related note, we got his very first report on Friday from nursery. Someone suggested reports are too formal for such young children and a year ago I would have agreed. But there’s this big chunk of time during the week where I don’t know what he does (he won’t tell me), I don’t control what he does and someone else knows this part of my son better than I do. I was almost hungry to find out what I was missing. Needless to say, I was delighted with his report. He’s happy, he’s confident and he’s learning.
One of my favourite blogs is the Awfully Big Blog Adventure. It’s run by the Scattered Author Society, a group of very talented children’s authors who take turns writing some fascinating posts. If you’re interested in children’s writing, as a writer, reader or parent (or general busybody) it’s definitely a site to bookmark.
So imagine my excitement when I got a message to say that ABBA were running a literary festival – online! For 2 days these lovely people are going to be posting articles and interviews every half hour. I’m especially looking forward to the videos, of which Lucy Coats is definitely doing one, and the competitions. Oh rats, I didn’t mean to tell you about those. I want to win. Ah well.
One of the reasons I’m SO excited about this is because I just have this feeling that children’s literature is taking off in a major way. The children’s writers community is taking to the possibilities of the internet in the most motivating and inspirational way, and this festival is a big part of that. And it IS a community, make no mistake. As I’m finding my contacts online focus naturally on children’s writers as I become more confident in my potential to join their ranks, and as I have more ‘Real Life’ contact with children’s writers, I can say I have rarely found a group of people that support each other so much and that get excited by each other’s successes. I think writers in general seem to be this way (with the odd exception of course…) and children’s writers especially so.
So I will be joining in with the ABBA Lit Fest with enthusiasm and I highly recommend you join me!
Edited to add: D’oh! Forgot to mention the dates. 9 & 10 July 2011! 😉