Jackie French – WORD Christchurch

Jackie FrenchWhat do cheese, Juliet and wombats have in common? Australian children’s laureate and prolific storyteller Jackie French has written about all of them, and all were discussed in her session this morning along with history, Hitler and Hamlet. But most of all, she talked about the importance of reading.

When you have books, you have the power to create the future.

Reading to children

We need to keep reading to children past the point where they themselves learn to read; their understanding and their reading level are often mismatched, and there’s nothing that will put someone off reading more than being given simplistic, boring texts when they’re capable of understanding The Lord of the Rings. We need to read to them until they’re telling us to stop, it’s too embarrassing now.

With the best intentions, we could be giving our children the wrong books. What are the wrong books? (Is there such a thing?) Books that will put their children off reading, books that kids Should Read because it’s Good For You (what an attractive prospect), books, in short, that their children don’t want to read. Jackie suggested letting children find their own books — letting them loose in a bookshop or a library and seeing what fires them up. It doesn’t matter if it’s non-fiction or fiction or if it’s The Day My Bum Went Psycho or Jane Eyre, as long as they find a book that they can’t stop reading, that’s enough. They’re hooked. As an example she talked of a teacher who had tirelessly found and purchased books specifically to meet the needs of Jackie (and considering the way she inhales books, that’s impressive).

Hatred is contagious, but kindness can be, too.Pennies for Hitler - Jackie French

When discussing Pennies for Hitler and Hitler’s Daughter, she asked: How do you know what is good when you are 14? We’re a product of our society, our upbringing and our history. If you’ve been fed false information, how are you to know what is right without the benefit of wide reading and experience? And what happens when what your beliefs turn around to bite you?

Jackie mentioned Georg in Pennies for Hitler, passionate believer in the Aryan race, who upon the discovery of a Jewish ancestor must flee and hide his German identity and pretend to be first English and then Australian in order to escape persecution. When Japan joins the war on the other side he is overjoyed because now he, too, can hate something. They are all united in the hatred of the Enemy.

That’s pretty heavy stuff, how about wombats?

Jackie laughs:Diary of a Wombat

Everyone secretly wants to be able to get what they want by bashing up a garbage bin, but we can’t because we’re humans and we have to be nice. If you’re a wombat, you can. It’s the ultimate fantasy.

Books give us empathy, they give us hope, and they give us the imagination to create our own lives and decide what kind of people we want to be.

What kind of person do you want to be when you grow up?

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