You've probably heard about the campaign that reading charity Booktrust has launched in order to get more dads reading with their kids. Their research shows that a mere 13% of fathers can be counted as the main bedtime reader and that just 26% of dads read to their kids on a daily basis. Long working hours seem to be the chief reason but other factors include fatigue and the view of dads that they think they're already doing enough.
It's fairly well established in the educational world that the influence of male reading role models has a huge impact on the educational success of boys and there is further evidence that boys' reading is slipping behind that of girls. So the Booktrust campaign is nothing if not timely.
They began by asking on Twitter for tips to get more #dadsreading and I supplied a couple myself on Friday morning. But on reflection, the best tip of all is the most obvious one and it's simple: read (choose, buy...) engaging books. Which helps, of course, if you're well served by a decent library and/or local bookshop.
But if you're not, then The Green Door Bookshop might be what you need. As they write on their website, 'finding different children’s books can be tricky. Especially if – like us – you don’t have an independent children’s bookshop to pop into. You can either drive to one or drown in search results, losing hours of your life in the process. That’s the reason we opened The Green Door Bookshop in November of 2012... We’re your independent children’s bookshop, online.'
They kindly offered me a book to review just before Christmas and it's a great example of the kind of thing that the Booktrust campaign needs to help give dads a nudge to read a little more. Funny, quirky and appealing in a straightforward (as opposed to gimmicky) way, A Drove of Bullocks by Patrick George is the kind of book to keeps dads as well as kids turning the pages - and that's not easy.
Because if we're brutally honest there's quite a lot of stuff on the children's book market which isn't really up to muster - children don't only like big, bold colourful pictures and they can (in my experience) pick up on even the tiniest inconsistencies in the text. And, as a dad, I have to confess that at times boredom prevents me from reading bedtime stories. Of course, that's not always a bad thing; it's inspired mischievous and simultaneous 'improvements' of several books including time-honoured classics like 'Thomas the Tank Engine' (my bête noire) and Enid Blyton.
In fact, that would probably make a good test for determining the quality of a children's story. If it can't be 'improved' in any way, then it's worth a read and then a re-read. And on that basis, we'll be hunting down several more of Patrick George's 'collective noun' oeuvre (among them 'A Shiver of Sharks' and 'A Filth of Starlings').
Which rather begs the obvious question of what the collective noun for children's books and children's authors should be? I've seen a few suggestions that I like, including an 'entertainment' and an 'imagination'. But my own suggestion is this: a spell. And I'm not talking about the kind of thing you have to search for in a dictionary either.
Think about it: a 'spell' of children's authors. Or a 'spell' of children's books. What better word captures the magic of what a good book can do for children?