I love being an author. Apart from being Han Solo, it’s pretty much the only thing I’ve ever wanted to be. And one of the really cool things about writing books for younger readers is that I spend a lot of time visiting schools, doing my best to inspire young readers. Reading is amazing; it opens up new worlds and new ways of thinking. Reading for pleasure makes people better people, (it’s true, I’ve seen science that says so) so I feel privileged to be able to play a small part in guiding young readers to stories.
Usually when I visit a school I talk to a large group. I’ll show them some embarrassing pictures of me growing up, tell them about why I write, why stories are important to me, that kind of thing. And I talk about reading for pleasure.
When I was at school, we would read a book in class. Every student had a copy of the book and we would take turns to read aloud. Paragraph by paragraph. Some students would read quickly, some would read slowly. Some had boring, monotonous voices. Some could barely read. I remember reading ‘Lord of the Flies’ that way, and what a bore it was.
When I tell students about this now, I see them nodding their heads. Yep, that’s still how they do it in some schools. In fact, some schools can’t even afford the books, so they only read photocopied extracts.
That’s not reading for pleasure. That’s reading because you have to. That’s reading for school. It’s work. It’s ‘Literacy’.
Reading for pleasure, I tell them, is when you read the first chapter of a book and decide it’s not the right book for you. Reading for pleasure is putting that book down and doing the same thing again until you find a book you DO want to read. Reading for pleasure is when you can’t wait to read the next page, you fall in love with the characters, hate the characters, cheer for the characters. Reading for pleasure is when a story stays with you forever, giving meaning to the things that happen to you. It’s that feeling you get when you think about the story. It’s when the smell of the pages lifts you to another place. Reading for pleasure is . . . pleasurable.
I sometimes worry that I may be speaking out of turn when I say these things at schools, but I often see the teachers nodding. They know it too. Where is the pleasure in stopping every few lines to discuss why this character said such-and-such, or that character did this-and-that?
I understand we need to read for school, for education, for all the boring reasons. But we also need to read for pleasure. That’s how we grow.
I LOVE it when a teacher tells me they’re reading a book in class just for the sake of reading it. No stopping, no analysis, just pure, unadulterated reading for pleasure. Hooray for those teachers! Hooray for school libraries! Hooray for school librarians!
Oh, and there’s one other thing; I have re-read Lord of the Flies, many times, and I now see it in a different light. It speaks to me in a way it didn’t speak to me when we read it and analysed it. What an amazing book.
by Dan Smith
Twelve-year-old Zak, who has an inoperable brain tumour, is with his sister and parents when their private plane is disastrously diverted. Wrecked on a remote research outpost in the Antarctic, they find themselves in an abandoned base. Then Zak's parents disappear, and the base's equipment starts 3D-printing nightmarish spiderlike creatures. Zak's bizarre visions appear to suggest a link to something else - beneath the ice - which only he can understand...
BELOW ZERO by Dan Smith out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House). Find out more at chickenhousebooks.com and connect with Dan Smith @DanSmithAuthor
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Growing up, Dan Smith lived three lives: the day-to-day humdrum of boarding school, finding adventure in the padi fields of Asia and the jungles of Brazil, and in a world of his own, making up stories. Dan is the author of My Friend the Enemy, My Brother’s Secret,Big Game and Boy X. BELOW ZERO his fifth children’s book with Chicken House. He lives in Newcastle.
Connect with him via twitter @dansmithauthor
In case you haven't yet had your fill of Dan and all things Below Zero check out some of the other posts he has done for the tour at the blogs below.