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Children want stories not sermons

Augustus Gloop falling into a chocolate river in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

Even if your kids are reading something “offensive or trivial or trite”, Anthony Horowitz told the Oxford Literary Festival last weekend, “it is better than not reading”. His words sum up the attitude of almost every parent I know, says Celia Walden in The Daily Telegraph. From the moment my daughter learned to read, I didn’t care if it was a ghastly “Pepto Bismol-pink” Princess and the Unicorn paperback or the side of a cereal packet – so long as she read something. The benefits are obvious: bookish types are healthier, land better-paid jobs, and get an “unmeasurable amount of pleasure” from the pastime. Yet nine million adults in Britain can’t read, 25% of 11-year-olds fall short of expected literacy standards, and teachers report a growing number of kids needing to be cajoled into picking up a book at all.

That’s why it’s so nonsensical for publishers to take an “antiseptic wipe” to the works of Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie. Children adore “grotesque” villains: the “fat” glutton Augustus Gloop; the grouchy Mrs Allerton in Death on the Nile who calls children “simply disgusting”. When sensitivity readers excise these passages, they remove the “thrill” that kids get from a book’s nastiness. Any parent knows their child will never read a “church-like sermon” full of “halo-topped figures” – they want a naughty pleasure on a par with a fizzy drink that dyes their tongue bright orange. If publishers talked up the wickedness of novels, we’d be a country of blooming imaginations, with better mental health and life prospects. Give me “full-fat Dahl and E number-filled Blyton” any day.