Friday, June 12, 2015

Making Literacy Real - with Fantasy

Making Literacy Real - with Fantasy
by Sean McMullen

In an interview just after Terry Pratchett died, the author Neil Gaiman pointed out that Terry was quite a serious writer who made use of humour, rather than a humorous writer who made an occasional serious comment. I agree. Terry’s work encapsulates the general value of fantasy in developing literacy in teenagers. It appeals to both sexes, it encourages even reluctant readers to actually read, and it can be used to educate young readers without them even realizing it.

George R.R. Martin recalled one of his teachers telling him that he should not waste his time with science fiction, and instead read edifying classics like Silas Marner. George then said that if he had been forced to read only edifying works, he would have stopped reading. My experience as a teen reader was similar. I also read SF and fantasy, and it got me so interested in telling stories that I too became an author. Significantly, I went on to read books like Silas Marner, because reading all that fantasy had strengthened my reading skills. If they find reading enjoyable, kids will do it voluntarily.

As a child my daughter was an enthusiastic reader of fantasy. She had already sold several stories by the age of twelve, so she found herself on a panel about young adult literature at the British Fantasy Convention in Birmingham. She was asked what she, a genuine young adult, would recommend to get kids reading. She said if a child is trying to cope with bullying, a pile of books about kids being bullied is a poor alternative to just escaping into a computer game. Reading needs to give kids relief from depressing reality, as well as lessons on coping with it.

Paul Collins and I took all the above into account while writing the recently published Warlock's Child series. While we were careful to keep the prose accessible, the action moving and the laughs happening, we also touched on issues like teamwork, dealing with change, loyalty and defying authority. Because a short book is less daunting to someone with weak reading skills, we broke the hundred thousand word story into a six novella series. The first five books end on a cliff hanger, so the reader has an incentive to keep reading, and become better at reading.

Bio: Sean McMullen is the author of over a hundred fantasy and science fiction novels and stories, and was runner up for a Hugo Award in 2011. His titles for young adults include Changing Yesterday, Before the Storm and The Ancient Hero.

Image credit: Display from Tucker Road PS Library

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