Let kids read for fun says new BookTrust writer in residence SF Said | Books
Adults should let children read the books they want, and not “dismiss or belittle a choice that a child has made themselves”, says new BookTrust writer in residence SF Said.
Said, an award-winning children’s author, will take on the role – after writers and illustrators including Michael Rosen, Nadia Shireen, Cressida Cowell and Nick Sharratt – from 1 March, and use his six-month term to emphasise the benefits of reading for pleasure. BookTrust works with libraries, schools and more to give children access to books, including through programmes such as Bookstart, which provides free books for every child in England and Wales up to five years old.
Said’s aim during his residency is to promote children’s right to read what they want without judgment, whether that be graphic novels, picture books, short stories, poems, novels or nonfiction.
“It’s so important for kids to know that they can read whatever brings them joy, whatever brings them pleasure,” he says. “The kind of judgment where adults believe they know better than children is so damaging, it’s so limiting.
“I would always encourage adults to make suggestions to kids, encourage them to read things that you think are great. But I really don’t think an adult should ever dismiss or belittle a choice that a child has made themselves.”
Said also believes that every child “can be a reader and gain all the incredible life-changing benefits of reading for pleasure and of literacy, without exception”.
“I really do believe the books I loved when I was young made me who I am,” says Said. “I feel like the books that kids love and connect with are the ones that really make them readers. If kids are reading only in order to pass a test, it’s not really going to take root as the kind of habit they’re going to do spontaneously.”
Research has shown reading for pleasure boosts self-esteem and happiness, and breaks down social barriers, helps all children do better at school and improves job prospects.
Said is the author of books including Varjak Paw, which won the Smarties prize for children’s literature, and its sequel The Outlaw Varjak Paw, which was BBC Blue Peter book of the year. His third book Phoenix was shortlisted for the Guardian children’s fiction award, and nominated for the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medals.
His most recent novel is Tyger, which draws upon Said’s own experience of growing up as a British Muslim of Middle Eastern origin and is set in an alternate universe where slavery was never abolished. Reviewing the book in the Guardian, Kitty Empire called it a “tremendous counterfactual thriller that nods to William Blake and real historical events”.
Growing up in London in the 1970s, he says “there were no books that I can remember that in any way reflected my identity or my experiences”.
Said looks forward to the point where there’s “a representative ecology in children’s publishing”. “Tyger is a book about British Muslim kids, much like myself in a parallel London. I could not have written that book 20 years ago. Well, I could have written it, but I just don’t think anybody would publish it.”
According to Diana Gerald of BookTrust, “the UK’s body of children’s literature overall remains far from representative”. Its latest research found that 11.7% of children’s book creators published in the UK in 2021 were people of colour, compared with 18% of the population at large. Even so, Said believes the children’s book industry in the UK has “come a long, long way”.
Gerald said Said’s “commitment to making reading feel accessible to all children makes him a fantastic force for change and we are honoured to have him on board as our new writer in residence”.
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