Once upon a time, I worked as a classroom assistant at the Sacred Heart Primary School in Hillsborough, Sheffield. I thought I wanted to be a teacher (I was wrong, but don’t hold that against me). I discovered that it was quite difficult to do much with Y3 and below (severe lack of concentration span, loads of Sunny Delight), and Y5 and Y6 were just as difficult as they were beginning to learn to not pay any attention at all (as well as throw filched packets of condoms around the playground which, in a Catholic School, is probably the very height of anti-establishment behaviour).
So I wound up helping out in Y4. Most afternoons, half an hour before the end of the day, the teacher would read to the class. The kids would gather around and listen and, wonder of wonders, they were quiet and they enjoyed the stories.
I asked the teacher if I could choose the next book. She was a little suspicious: I wasn’t Catholic, I wasn’t one of Them, and I wrote my zeroes and sevens in “the European style” on the chalkboard (“we’re not European, we’re English!”), and she hadn’t heard of my choice of book to read. For all she knew, I could be warping their tiny, fragile minds.
Well, she was right.
The book was Truckers, the first in Terry Pratchett’s Bromeliad series for younger readers. The story, if you need a quick reminder, concerns the adventures of Masklin and his fellow nomes, when they are evicted from their home under the floorboards of a massive department store. It might have been a little “advanced” for Y4, perhaps, I certainly wasn’t an expert in judging that, but I figured I could skip over any difficult bits if I really needed to.
We began. I had brought my own copy of Truckers in to read from. Masklin crossed a road, evaded predators, and helped his tribe into the back of a lorry. Y4 listened intently.
By the end of the first week, a couple of them were reading along, using copies that they had evidently sourced from the local library. By the middle of the second week, I don’t think there was a single copy of Truckers left in the Sheffield Library system. They were all here, in this classroom. We parcelled out some of the speaking roles – that was ambitious. The kids took it in turn to be Masklin and Grimma, stumbling over the printed words enthusiastically.
Those kids will be in their mid-20s now, I think. I bumped into one a few years back. He blamed me for getting him hooked on reading and hooked on fantasy.
Not my fault: that honour belongs to Terry Pratchett, I reckon. After all, The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic did the same for me when they turned up in the boxes of books that my uncle left behind when he emigrated to South Africa.
Thank you, Terry.
Reading is important. It makes you think.
Pass it on, folks. Tell your children.
The turtle moves.