It’s World Book Day on Thursday – O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
From which you might gather that I spent an intriguing few hours downloading books yesterday, including several by Lewis Carroll (well, you might not, but you do now!). I also downloaded much of the output of L. Frank Baum.
The Oz books strongly influenced Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, though he got ruby slippers from the film – silver shoes in the Wizard of Oz book. Personally, I find them a little simple-minded (the Oz books, not the Dark Tower), even allowing for the fact that they are (a) written for children**, and (b), absurdly popular, especially in the US. Though perhaps (b) explains everything! 😉
**Children are not necessarily stupid just because they’re young, and the idea of socks, guns, cheese, clocks, banjos, padlocks and ice-cream cones, among other stuff, all growing on trees (in the book Tik-Tok of Oz), would surely strike a discordant note for many a child old enough to read. If, as Baum says, his young readers were old enough to write to him and suggest plot lines, they were certainly old enough to have developed critical faculties.
All perfectly legitimately downloaded, from Literature.org which connects with Project Gutenberg (PG), from where most books can be downloaded in various formats (if you’re reading them on a computer, or printing them out, stick to Plain Text files, which are easily converted to Word files – or whatever word processor you use – and reformatted, with extraneous material removed, should you feel the need).
Some books at Literature.org are missing the link to PG, but can be tracked down easily enough at PG itself, along with much else. The books available are all out of copyright in the US, but people are advised to check their local situation. Yeah, like that’s going to happen – how many people would even know how, anyway?
Literature.org is a good place to start, though, as PG isn’t that easy to find your way around in. For example, I selected English as my preferred language which, in theory, provides links to books in only English, but it doesn’t. As soon as you click on a letter of the alphabet, by title or author, it negates the language selection. And I’d prefer to see a list of authors, rather than the current system.
Books haven’t always been as easy to come by as they are these days, though, what with the many online sources and Waterstone’s/W.H. Smith’s everywhere else, though independents are a dying breed.
Throughout much of my childhood, and early teens (before I earned money to buy my own books), I invariably asked for book tokens at birthdays/Christmas (or if that was too much trouble, cash was fine).
Not once, not bloody once, did I get a book token. I very occasionally got cash, but what I mostly got was pens, horrible woollen plaid ties and Argyle socks that no-one but a deranged ghillie could like, and assorted crap (that’s not me being ungrateful – it actually was crap).
For example, on one notorious occasion – I was 13, and just started shaving, thus there was more scope for present-buying than previously, though I still asked for book tokens at Christmas – I got a sodding raffia-weaving set! From my mother! And I thought – I’ve lived with this bloody woman all my life, and she doesn’t even know me. Shit!
But seriously, how many kids, growing up to be adults with no love for books, have had similar disheartening experiences and just given up? Children are easily distracted, and an embryonic interest in books, unless nurtured (or very strong), is easily lost.
I was lucky, as the local library was just down the road, and by the time I was 11 I had an adult library card (the librarian was a family friend, otherwise I’d have had to wait a few frustrating years more**), and I was also the school library’s librarian in later years, so I was well supplied with books, even though they weren’t my own. Others, perhaps, aren’t so lucky.
** Maybe kids should be allowed out of the confines of the junior library sooner (I’m waiting for an email from my local library to tell me what the minimum age for the adult library is here), especially if they’ve pretty much read all it has to offer? There’s only so much Hardy Boys and Biggles (or whatever the current equivalent is, Harry bloody Potter excepted), that a sane child can take.
Personally, I think the Potter books are pretty dire (I actually think other things, too, but Rowling is obsessively litigious), but they did at least get a generation of kids reading, which can only be good.
However, if you want seriously good books for your kids, try Terry Pratchett – his Tiffany Aching trilogy (well, a trilogy so far, anyway – if Pratchett is able, I think we’ll see at least one more in the series), The Wee Free men, A Hatful of Sky, and The Wintersmith – are a masterclass in writing for children. Not only will they enjoy the books – as will adults, by the way – the writing will stretch them and enhance their reading skills and, if they take anything at all away from the books, and I mean this quite sincerely, they will be better people for reading them. Without being preached at.