The survival of the book: Coexisting with Gog and Magog
This article was published in Good Teacher, Term 1 1999
Predicting the future
is a mug's game... this mug looked upon the horizon and saw the
gathering forces of film, television, Nintendo 64, CD-ROM interactive,
the Net - all the unholy forces of Gog and Magog... But Luddite
ranting is useless, And I suspect, unwarranted. I do notfeel that
the computer will ever replace the book... My contention is that
what we do in books - what we do best - is simply not being done
anywhere else. The electronic world is endlessly diverting but
that's the problem - it is endless, which is its greatest draw
and finally its greatest drawback (Tim Wynne-Jones, 1997).
Katherine Paterson, the author of
the unforgettable The great Gilly Hopkins, The bridge to Terabithia
and Jacob have I loved, says, "I take great hope in the resurgence
of storytelling in our country. There is obviously a hunger today
among people, young and old, to listen to the well-told tale."
There would be few
New Zealand teachers who would deny the value of reading aloud
to children, instilling a love of literature. Most recognise that
a love of reading and a love of learning go hand in hand, and
that we have the most wonderful storytellers, authors and books
- and opportunities to experience living story'.
(1998) points out that:
...by the early 19th
century those people who could read were, by and large, reading
extensively. In addition to books, all kinds of journals and newspapers
were available, so the reader read a page or an item only once,
racing to get to the next bit of reading material. In our day,
adults who read generally read this way, although today's pace
in relation to the pace of the past century is like that of a
fast-forwarded cartoon to a painting on the wall of a cave. There
is so much more paper coming into our houses and places of business
these days that to glimpse a page of print is to read.
She goes on to say,
"We who write for children still have the advantage," because
children are still willing to take the time to read slowly and
This is a key point.
Kids who happily surf the net and surf the channels will dig deep
into a book story if it yields the narrative satisfactions they
Screen story provides
its own satisfactions; video watching co-exists happily with TV
watching and with the resurgence in cinema going. In the same
way book story co-exists happily with screen story. Through CDs
and interactive narrative-based games boundaries have blurred.
The negative side
is that, for children who grow up only with screen story, reading
books is like learning a second language.
It isn't just a horses-for-courses
alternative. If they haven't grown up being read to and read with,
reading is a a poor substitute for the instant satisfactions of
screen story, and what's the point? Telling these kids that 'reading
is FUN' is simply silly. For them it isn't, and will never be
until they experience books, realising that words aren't linear
- they are symbols that trigger wonderful feelings, wonderful
pictures in the mind, and feed a hunger for deeply experienced
knowledge that is far harder to achieve with fast-paced screen
New Zealand's children's
literature champions, including Tessa Duder, Mollie Furnell and
John McKenzie, have pointed out that good children's literature
is international. The emotions and satisfactions underpinning
the best stories of past and present - Katherine Paterson's, for
example - are international.
We, as teachers, must
model the kind of reading which will allow children to experience
these stories deeply. Even students who can't read themselves
will listen and respond if teachers themselves are passionate
about the books, and read aloud to share their enthusiasm. Of
course this is true; good literature is international and we need
to cast our net wide. But starting at home is a good place, if
what is published is good enough. Where can you find out what
is good enough?
Buying books just
because they are shortlisted for an award is not necessarily a
reliable method of selection. Nor is buying books from a catalogue
or book rep's boxes. Every school should subscribe to the Australian
Journal Magpies which has good reviews of New Zealand material
by New Zealand reviewers. And every school should subscribe to
Talespinners which is produced by John McKenzie and Doreen Darnell
at Christchurch College of Education.
Why not start the
year with a reading binge, with students learning to experience
book story more deeply than they ever need to experience screen
story? Katerine Paterson says, "But we who care about children
and ultimately about wisdom must share, with whose who do not
know, the riches and depth of human experience, with the hope
that they may become wise leaders for the confused masses milling
at the crossroads."
Paterson, Katherine (1998). Confusion at the crossroads. School
Library Journal, May 1998
Wynne-Jones, Tim (1997). 'The suwival of the book. Signal.