I took assembly at my youngest daughter’s school this week to help celebrate World Book Day.
I printed off a few dozen large pictures of characters from children’s fiction and asked the 180 or so kids if they could name them.
We talked about the importance of reading and the simple pleasure of a good book.
Then I read a Horrid Henry story which had the four to seven-year-olds in hysterics and a chapter of a Famous Five novel which left the children desperate to learn what happened next to Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog.
It’s easy to understand why some kids these days don’t appreciate books – there’s simply so many other distractions.
Game consoles, computers, mobile telephones and umpteen television channels mean that the humble old book may seem a rather dull option.
This perhaps goes some way to explaining the poor literacy levels among pre-school and primary age children.
When I was growing up in the Eighties children’s television was in its infancy and so books were still a hugely important source of entertainment.
As a youngster I was incredibly proud of my collection of ‘fact books’ – Ladybird books on everything from birds of prey to kings and queens of England.
They’re now part of my daughters’ book collection – sitting alongside Horrible Histories.
When I reached high school I genuinely enjoyed my Saturday morning trips to Hanley Library where I would use the leather bound Encyclopaedia Britannica to research everything from the Treaty of Versailles to rise of Benito Mussolini.
But, for me, the real pleasure in books has always been through fiction.
The first book which really made an impression on me was Stig Of The Dump, by Clive King, which was actually written in the Sixties but was first adapted for television in 1981.
That’s when I and my classmates a whole generation of Eighties kids became enthralled by the tale of a boy who finds a caveman living in a rubbish tip.
Around the same time my friends and I were introduced to The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole (Aged 13 and three quarters), by Sue Townsend, which became the best-selling British new fiction book of the decade.
It was funny, occasionally risque, and perfectly pitched at kids like me who were about to become teenagers and could empathise with the pathetic oik that was Adrian.
Roald Dahl was, of course, prolific during the Eighties and produced some of his best-loved works – including George’s Marvellous Medicine (1981), The BFG (1982) and Matilda (1988).
I read all of them but Charlie And The Chocolate Factory remains my favourite simply because I love the idea of the scrawny, poor but ultimately nice and polite kid finding the Golden Ticket.
As a dad with young children I’ve had cause in recent years to bump into two other beloved children’s characters from the Eighties – Spot the dog, created by Eric Hill, and Jill Murphy’s bear family – both of which were first published in 1980.
The simple narrative and beautiful illustrations are a real joy and they have become timeless classics which reinforce wholesome family values.
As an avid player of Dungeons and Dragons in my teens I was captivated by The Dragonlance Chronicles – first published in 1984 an written by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman – a sort of Lord of the Rings Trilogy for a new generation.
I’ve actually met Margaret twice since then and always say thank you. I even named by goldfish after one of the key characters.
These books eventually led me to my all-time favourite novel, first published in 1986 by English heroic fantasy author David Gemmell.
I’ve still got my original copy of Waylander – a tale about an assassin seeking redemption in a war-torn land – which was signed by David at a book store in Birmingham a couple of years before his untimely death.
As much as I appreciate what modern technology does for us I’m chuffed to have grown up in an age when books and libraries really were treasured.’
Pick up a copy of The Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia.