Books with wings, mind-reading head lice, unicorns that puke rainbows – hooray for Children’s Book Festival. Every October children’s authors fly round Ireland in cars or on carpets, by train or by dragon, to celebrate books and encourage young people to read.
That’s the official story. My experience is the other way round; it’s the children who encourage me with their crazy on-the-spot stories. And it’s not just the book-lovers whose imaginations run wild.
When I ask young audiences if anyone doesn’t like reading, a brave hand or two might go up. When I ask why, the answer is usually that it’s ‘boring’ or ‘hard work.’ While that could be because the child hasn’t been encouraged to read, or simply hasn’t yet found one that grabs them, there are surely some who just don’t engage easily with the page.
Stories, though – well they’re a different story. By the time we’ve thought of other ways of telling stories, from films to songs, from video games to drawing, every hand has gone up. And as soon as they start creating their own stories – simply by answering questions as I hold up an object such as a sock or a tattered old hat – there isn’t a child who isn’t popping with ideas.
Of course books are wonderful. And lucky old us who love them. But not so lucky old those who find reading difficult. What a challenge they face in mainstream education with its emphasis on the written word. Wouldn’t it be great to bring in Story as a subject in school, in which pupils create a story in their chosen medium –rap, dance, finger-painting, baking, gardening – or even simple story telling?
Here’s some stonking storytelling with 300 young storytellers and Laureate na n’Og Eoin Colfer, all aboard the Story Train last March.