Great expectations

Children should read Dickens
Children should read Dickens

Biographer Claire Tomalin thinks children of today incapable of it but the Government insists that they must - read Charles Dickens that is.I don’t know who is right because I don’t have children or enough contact with them to comment on their attention spans or reading habits.

I do know, though, that if they don’t read any Dickens they are missing out on a colourful, comedic, tragic world - one full of possibilities and achievements, sacrifice and love, adventure and misadventure.

Sue Wilkinson Children's book swap web

Sue Wilkinson Children's book swap web

I read my first Dickens when I was a kid - A Tale of Two Cities was a Christmas present. I’ve still got it. Transcribed on the fly-leaf is: This book belongs to Sue Wilkinson, age 12.

At that age I was capable of reading it but did so as a tale of brave adventure - a sort of grown-up Scarlet Pimpernel, which I had already read and loved.

I have since read this portrait of the best of times, the worst of times five times - out of choice - and it is my favourite Dickens novel.

This has a little to do with its association with childhood and Christmas - and much more to do with my love of a great story, full of memorable characters, wonderfully told.

It inspired me to read Oliver Twist, Barnaby Rudge and Great Expectations before I reached the age of 18 - the age the Government is recommending children should have read Dickens.

But reading was, and is, one of my passions. But when I was a kid there wasn’t the alternative pastimes there are today. The most sophisticated gadget on the market was a Stylophone. I didn’t have the wonders of an Xbox or the internet to explore.

There was only so many patterns I could make with my Spirograph but the worlds I could enter through books were endless.

I didn’t have to be persuaded or bribed to pick up a book - my parents read to me, they read books themselves, my grandparents took me to the library ... books were something I always remember having.

Neither was my reading limited. Books by Enid Blyton, Robert Louis Stevenson, Malcolm Saville and Arthur Ransome filled by shelves.

I’ll still read almost anything ... but if it’s a toss up between chick-lit and the back of a cornflake packet ... the ingredients of breakfast cereal will win every time.

On my shelves are Margaret Atwood, Jane Austen, Stan Barstow, Enid Blyton, Peter Carey, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, Daniel Defoe, Bret Easton Ellis, George Eliot, Sebastian Faulks, Henry Fielding ... Henry James, Captain WE Johns, Brian Jacques ... Daphne Du Maurier, David Mitchell ... HG Wells, Sarah Waters, Tim Winton ... the list is endless because there are still books being written.

The least we can do for children is ensure they have access to books ... free at the library, pass on our own treasures or buy them as gifts.