The Book Corner
Published on: 4 Hydref 2013 Author: Laura Dockrill
The only time I ever wet myself was in the book corner. It was without fail the second most embarrassing moment of my time at primary school. I was five. Far too old to be wetting oneself. But it was the first time I had found something I couldn't put down, and I guess I chose reading over my reputation. I never remembered what that book was, but it must have been good.
Those corners in classrooms are palaces. Sanctuaries. Dream emporiums that should never be taken for granted. I remember being allowed to visit the book corner as a treat if I had finished my classwork before my classmates.
Showing off, perusing through the coloured chewed spines, carefully catching the eye of a struggling student as they breathed hot frustrated air into their exercise book. I would give that professor look, concerned, interested, as my finger spanned the shelves, like a doctor or better still, a wizard, searching for a remedy or potion. A-HA. Showing off. So annoying BUT SO REWARDING.
Then I would sit, open up the book and escape.
It quickly came to my attention that if I rushed my work I could get book corner time and that meant escaping and THAT was my favoruite thing to do. I wanted to meet the BFG, Peter Pan, Tracy Beaker, Milly Molly Mandy, The Iron Man, not listen to Mrs Gregg batter on about fractions. So I got quick and I've never really un-quicked myself when it comes to work. Books were my incentive, my dangling carrot, my light at the end of the tunnel. I like to get things done and I think I have the book corner to thank for that.
Pretty soon I noticed that a lot of the naughty kids were in the book corner too, with me. I never realized these villains loved to read and I looked forward to the idea of us bonding over the Goosebumps series together and perhaps even the child-friendly version of Dracula. 'What's your favorite book?' I whispered to one of them one afternoon, 'None of them.' She hissed back, 'I hate books.' It was then I learnt that the book corner was also a punishment trap. A naughty step. A 'chokey' as Matilda would say. And that didn't seem fair. My reward for good behavior and progression was equal to another's punishment.
THIS IS THE PROBLEM.
Books have somewhere got lost in translation. I think perhaps books that are fun as well as educational have, over the years, been used as teaching devices to get children to understand literature. Tools to reward children, like me, in school time because a book is a healthy alternative to play - like an apple when everybody wants a Twix. But by accident, in doing that, books have become linked to education and that means work. For many young people reading and writing is a distant untouchable orb that they are not allowed to access. They are not invited, and they don't want to be either. Books are not treated as entertainment and sadly sit at the bottom of a long slushy pile of 'to do's. When really, books are a present!
I can't tell you how over the moon I was when Disney's Beauty and the Beast came out and the main character; Belle (Beauty) was a bookworm. She was beautiful, kind, smart, gentle, protective and took care of her creative father and I LOVED HER. And because she was the female protagonist of the latest Disney film, so did everybody else. For the first time ever I was into the same thing as a main character in a Disney film and that was a passport to everything. All the girls in my school wanted to read books, proper books, heavy books and I, even at six years of age, could recommend them. We would trip up on the pavements on our way home because 'our nose had to be stuck in a book' like our dream intelligent AND awfully pretty role model. And our ambition became to use one of those excellent ladders on wheels that slide across bookcases. Obvs. But it didn't last long; it just took whatever the interests of the protagonist in the next Walt Disney smash to boot books out of our satchel. It was probably Aladdin. Belle didn't stand a chance.
The pleasure and enjoyment of reading is instilled from a young age. It has to be practiced and encouraged. Seeds have to be planted to ensure a healthy long lasting relationship with books and the imagination. In my experience, particularly moving to writing for a younger audience it is surprising how many people- adults included- are frightened of words. Some people have decided that 'books aren't for them.' I try to think about it like sport and P.E.. For me P.E. was a punishment. Something I dreaded. I hated all sport because I was rubbish at it. If I was accidently good at sport then things might have been different, but changing into a tracksuit to be chosen last, again, to be on a team I didn't want to be on, last to be plucked again from a wall of students that were all up for it only to have balls thrown at me from different angles was my idea of hell. Sports day, for me, was a punishment. However, now that I am older I love to keep fit, I have found 'P.E.' in my own time - just twenty years too late. I remember my little brother, when he found football: every single spare second he was playing it, before, during and after school. I remember going on holiday with our family and he would get off the aeroplane and be doing kick ups in passport control, at the reception desk of the hotel, in the blistering sun, by the pool in a full kit playing football, alone. I would watch and I would think 'REALLY?' Completely dismissing the fact that I had a book in my hand the whole time. Football was his thing and reading was mine. But you don't get in trouble for reading a book. Nobody told you off for reading.
I can bang on about books and tell you how beautifully evacuating they are. How diverse they are. I would be lying if I said that every holiday I go on with my husband that I don't pack at least two spare books for him to read, just in case he gets the urge and wants to pick one up. I even do my research, I know his favourite (only) author is Bret Easton Ellis so I try and find as many like-minded writers as I can, just in case Daniel suddenly turns overnight and fancies a read. And he never does. Daniel comfortably says he 'wishes' he liked books because he knows the calming effects books have. It is a kind of meditation, a moment of calm.
Just like the book corner in the classroom, books are in reach. Always. There are things to read. Always. You have to look for it. It's a bit like when you want a dog and all you see everywhere is really happy people walking really terribly cute dogs everywhere - once you're aware, you'll recognise. Beautiful stories punctuate our universe. Lined up like mini adventures, every one promising something special. An escape. And much cheaper than an aeroplane ticket! But I would never want anybody to think they have to read. Books are not a chore. They shouldn't be force-fed. They aren't a punishment. Only know they are there and feel at any moment they can belong to you, they are yours. For you. Always.
And if you really really feel like it's too late for you, that you can't find an entrance into the 'world of books', go back. Pick up your favoruite children's book from when you were young, or the one you most remember, and re-read it, try again. From the start. And if you still are not smitten, then save it for the eyes of a small child, introducing it as something wonderful.
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