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‘Books are gateway to wonderful world’
MARK HADDON won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and in 2004, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Overall Best First Book for his novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time . He lives in Oxford with his wife and their two young sons.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I’m asked about my favourite book as a child so often that I have it sitting beside my desk right now and feel I should apologise for repeating myself.
Origins of The Universe by Albert Hinkelbein. I won it as a prize at junior school in 1974 and anyone who understands the vertiginous wonder that comes with gazing up into a starry sky will know why I loved it and why I still love books about space, about cosmology and about space travel.
What did you like to read when you were young?
I read very little fiction as a child and can remember almost nothing of it. I do however remember a few picture books from an earlier period of my life and I still have my favourite, Diggy Takes His Pick, a Christmas story about the eponymous mole, a hedgehog called Pinny Needlekin, a fox called Mr Cunningly-Sly, an earwig called Mr Johnson and a stolen plum pudding.
What did you like reading to your children?
We enjoyed reading lots of books to our children when they were small.
Pretty much everything by Quentin Blake, the Alfie books by Shirley Hughes, Mairi Hedderwick’s Katy Morag books and the Little Red Train series by Benedict Blathwayt.
Though, of course, children being children, the books they wanted read over and over and over were not always the ones we enjoyed reading and there was a period when the name Thomas the Tank Engine made my heart sink instantly.
Why is it important that children read?
Writers and teachers and librarians often want children to read because it is a gateway to the wonderful world of literature.
It helps them empathise without people and gives them a parallel world into which they can escape.
But I think it’s important to remember that learning to read and to read well is a gateway to pretty much everything of real value in society.
To turn the argument round and put the case in its simplest and most brutal form, look at the shocking levels of literacy problems in prisons and you start to realise the implications of not learning to read and not getting through that gateway.
Learning to read and read well is not just a good thing but a basic human right.