En av de absolute starkaste läsupplevelserna jag hade som ung var “Dansa på min grav” av Aidan Chambers. Han är aktuell med ”Det här är allt. Cordelia Kenns Kuddbok”. På Bokmässan i Göteborg fick jag chansen att träffa honom och tala lite om läsning.
How does one get young people to become readers?
Read aloud to them every day, have lots of books around them of course, with a bit of a range, not a narrow collection, give them time to read for themselves. Make sure they see the adults around them reading. It often helps if the children are not keen on reading to get them drawing and writing their own stories, because writing is a form of reading. And often children that are not keen on reading are keen on doing something so they thing writing their own stories is doing something and reading isn’t. Which they of course are wrong about, but that’s what they think.
I’ve read that you learned to read quite late, weren’t there many books around at home?
No, there weren’t. I come from a family of miners, they didn’t read much at all. The school I was in was pretty dreadful, the only books that were in the classroom were the educational books for learning to read so that was very dull, and he never read to us. My first school teacher did, thank goodness. Every morning she read us a story, which I now remember were the biblical stories, then in the afternoon, after lunch, she made us act the story out. Then when I left that school, that’s when I came across these awful teachers. But to give them their due, there weren’t the same range of things then for children and a lot of it was the kind of middleclass thing that they thought we wouldn’t want like Beatrix Potter, which is wrong of course. And because I came from a not literate family I was never told there was such a thing as a library and the school didn’t tell us. So it was a very, very narrow education really. This was during the Second World War. And I didn’t know what was the matter with me, I could read individual words, but if they put them in sentences I couldn’t . I could write words and simple sentences, so I don’t know why I couldn’t make the connection. And it just happened one night, it just clicked and I was doing it.
Do you remember which book was the first one that you read?
Yes, but I don’t remember the title. This man, he used to make us take one book home over the weekend to read it, but I never did. But this particular weekend, I don’t know why, it was a Friday night, I was looking this book, it had pictures in it, and it was something to do with an island, a story of an island. It wasn’t Treasure Island, but suddenly I heard these words in my head, a story being told, and then realized it was coming from the words on the page. And my mother noticed, and my father wondered at that point why I was still up, it was very late, and she said to him “Shut up you fool, can’t you see what he is doing?”, because he’d been very worried about me, the teachers had been saying “He’s very slow Mr. Chambers”, and suddenly I was able to do it and she must have seen it on my face. And I remember that moment.
How come you chose to write books for young adults?
I was a teacher of English, and wanted to get my students to read. My first job was in an academic school so that was all the classics. And then went to a school for non academics, with students that were like I had been. And they were saying to me, “We don’t want to read any of these books” so I said to them: “What would you read if I find it?”. So they told me what they wanted. They wanted short books, they wanted to read about people like themselves, doing things they could do, in other words they were talking about a literature of their culture, which didn’t exist. Then I thought: well they know what they want to read if they could get it, I’m trying to write and I can’t get anywhere: I’ll write them the book they want. So I did.