Most people assume that when we talk about books on television, what we are really talking about are adaptations. But these are not the only ways that we encounter books on the screen. I was very sad to hear of the death of Eric Hill this week--creator of the simple and simply lovely Spot series--but while it was the ABC Television where I first encountered Spot, it was not as a cartoon.
I was read Spot books by the presenters of Play School, and many other books besides. Better than that, there was a whole program dedicated to reading children's books to kids watching through their television sets, called The Book Place. Yes, it had a few gimmicky trimmings -- songs and a strange-looking but endearing "Bookworm" who always wore a collar and tie. But it was the stories from the reading chair that had us all hooked. My favourite children's book as a kid (don't ask me why, I suspect the sense of fun and subject matter of food) was A Sausage Went for a Walk, and it was on The Book Place that I discovered it. I still know parts of it off by heart.
This week a Kickstarter campaign for a revival of LeVar Burton's similarly themed television program in the U.S. Reading Rainbow is sitting at almost four million dollars in pledges from the public. I think it's wonderful. People clearly have fond memories of discovering the joys of reading through the televisions in their lounge rooms, and shows like Reading Rainbow, The Book Place and even Play School exhibit an appreciation of the book itself that celebrates rather than translates.
I would love to think that all parents read to their kids, but even if they do, books being read on screen clearly have a positive influence on the literacy of many young people. In the U.S. Reading Rainbow looks like it's coming back bigger than ever. But what about us? What, I wonder, happened to shows like The Book Place? And don't we need them now, more than ever?