Kids and books: The view from both sides of the Atlantic

John Scieszka, America's National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, and Michael Rosen, Britain's children's laureate, are both worrying about kids and books and have surprisingly similar things to  say.

To sum them both up: Make sure kids are allowed to  have some fun with their learning. Too much focus on test scores may be killing the simple pleasure of books.

Scieszka did an interview with the Los Angles Times last week in which he worried about what he calls the "William Bennett position":  Parents who believe that "If [children] are not reading Greek myth, don't let them do it at all."

Scieszka extols comic books, graphic novels, and even – imagine! – television.

"It may seem like heresy," he says, "for the children's literature ambassador to say reading is not the be-all and end-all. But kids could be watching great TV, designing their own video games, or making their own animation." It's all good brain work, he believes.

Michael Rosen, meanwhile, told the Independent last week that, "What he wants above all is to re-inject a sense of enthusiasm into the study of literature in schools. Love books, he says, and school will be a cinch; over-test children, sterilise the English language, and you only make it harder."

Both Rosen and Scieszka apparently were given their fair share of free rein as children when it came to reading and recreational habits. "I did all that wonderfully 'meaningless' play, where you just goof about with your mates, all day Saturday, all day Sunday," remembers Rosen. "My parents had the idea that you develop through free play and this was part of their education philosophy."

It's perhaps not a bad message for parents to absorb this week as their kids head back to school. Of course you can't ignore the test scores, but make sure not to neglect the pleasure of it all, either.

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