Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The medicine chest of the soul

Here’s a round-up of some of the more interesting items making the news at the moment.
But first, a riddle! What is it? 'The medicine chest of the soul', ‘the delivery room for the birth of ideas’,  ‘the only treasure-house open to all comers ', ‘an act of faith’, even the 'most democratic place in the community'? It is of course the public library, the institution championed this month by David Crystal, who is surely today the most prolific author on the English language. As many will be aware, public and school libraries are under serious threat of closure throughout the length and breadth of the country, which is why he has written on his blog ‘Why care about libraries?’
At this time when libraries are under such severe threat, you might also want to keep up with Alan Gibbons's blog. As I've reported before, as well as being a children's author - if you haven't read the Shadow of the Minotaur you don't know what you're missing! - Alan has been a tireless campaigner against library closures in schools and elsewhere.
Stop press: You can hear Kate Mosse on 'The Daily Politics' today making a passionate plea for keeping libraries open and echoing in many ways the benefits they bring extolled in the David Crystal piece. She claimed that 400 libraries and 50 mobile libraries are earmarked with closure and she called on the government to formulate a 'national library policy'. She also called for support for the national day of action in support of libraries this Saturday (5th February).

There's also a nice interview on the BBC News channel with the children's author Michael Rosen and Stephanie Calman, talking about the importance of reading bedtime stories to children. What Michael says is absolutely dead right: getting hold of the written, as opposed to the spoken language, is like having to handle another dialect. So, reading to one's child is incredibly important for them to hear the 'music', the different prosodic features of the language. It also introduces them to a wider range of vocabulary than they might normally expect to hear in the course of everyday conversation, as well as of course familiarising them with the kinds of grammatical constructions rarely used in spoken language. 
However, reading to one's child every day is not a guarantee that they will grow up learning to read. They may develop a love and enjoyment of books. They may grow up with an enormously extensive vocabulary and an implicit understanding of the many genres of the written word but, unless they are taught how to read, they may never gain their independence as readers.

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