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Saturday, 5 September 2015


Lyndon Riggall reflects on his experiences during Book Week 2015.

Book Week was one of my busiest weeks of the year. I’m sure that many children’s writers agree that it seems to reset an excitement for literature that usually (and hopefully) carries over into the summer holidays. In the dead of winter, we are chained to our computers working on another draft of something, but at the end of August we emerge again from our cocoons and face the world. I ran workshops all week, racing in and out of rooms, losing my voice, and generally having a grand old time. 

I meant in this blog to offer my thoughts on the winners of this year’s awards, but if I may, I would like instead to talk about this year’s Book Week theme: Books light up our world. 

At Scotch Oakburn Junior School in Launceston, celebrations were in full swing. One of my favourites, of the many displays that were put together to celebrate the week, was a posterboard of light globes. Inside each globe, the students had written or drawn why they believed that books lit up their world. The descriptions were beautiful: Books transport me to other worlds. Books open my imagination. Books make me feel calm. Even in the wordless additions, there was a lovely sense of joy and brightness: “Look,” one of the teachers said. “In the drawings, they are always smiling.”

Children live for stories. Once, when I was babysitting, I was promised with absolute dewey-eyed sincerity, that when this particular child’s parents were home they usually had “at least ten books” before bedtime. At some point in our lives, however, “Ten books before bedtime” becomes, “I wish I had the time to read.” In the very worst case scenarios, it becomes, “Books are boring.”

I have always maintained that no-one hates books, they’ve just been reading the wrong ones. And what about the right ones? Books, when beautifully written, heartfully meant and received with openness, can connect two people in silent thought. The character Hector in the play The History Boys described moments in reading when “a person you’ve never met, maybe even long dead” describes something in your heart that you always felt was a part of you alone, and “it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.” These are the moments we writers aspire to; they are the moments that turn us into lifelong readers.

Books remind us that every person on this planet has thoughts rushing around inside their head, right now. They make us feel less alone and they encourage us to understand others. Through books we can live lives that we would otherwise never understand. We can safely play at being good or being bad. We can be adults or children, other genders, other species. In books, anything is possible.

I encourage those of you who feel that you may have lost your enthusiasm for literature to use the themes of Book Week as an excuse to try and rekindle it. If possible, make time to read, even just for thirty minutes a day. If you don’t like something within fifty pages, discard it. Life is too short: you need to find stories that excite you. A really great book can keep the fire of reading burning for months.

Smile, like the children sitting in those light globes--for that is what books do: they allow us to shine. Hatred, confusion, despair--books can combat all these things. They are lights, bringing the beautiful glow of understanding to even the darkest corners. All we need do is let them shine.

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