Children's reading: entertainment, enlightenment and education
Guest author Hilary Hawkes began writing books and poems when she was only 8 years old. She was 19 when a magazine published 12 of her short stories. Her 'Strawberry Jam' books are for pre-school to age 12 readers. The series includes a project called 'The Friendship Adventure', which highlights 'awareness of differences, disabilities, uniqueness in everyone to stories that link to fun activities and games'.
Hilary has a degree in publishing and English, together with qualifications in nursery and pre-school teaching. 'Little Chestnuts Pre-school' uses fun stories, games and rhymes 'to enhance alphabet knowledge, thinking and pre-literacy skills'. She's written non-fiction books about Aspberger's Syndrome, Autism and Pre-School Choices.
Here, she writes about how she sees the purpose of children's books, not just for their entertainment value but for educating and enlightening the minds of young children, to make them more aware of the need for kindness, compassion and acceptance of the differences among peoples in today's world.
Strawberry Jam Books
by Hilary Hawkes
Authors (and especially children’s authors) have been known to claim that creating books is one of the best jobs in the world! And book lovers, whatever age, know that reading is one of the most pleasurable and beneficial pastimes. “The more you read the more things you know. The more that you learn the more places you’ll go” said Dr Seuss. And “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…the man who never reads lives only once” warns George Martin!I’ve always loved the idea of children’s stories that don’t just entertain (or help with literacy skills) but that are on a bit of a secret mission too: Stories that spread the values of kindness, inclusion or understanding or that are gateways for children to explore things going on in their lives or that help them feel nurtured and valued.
Stories can be used to help children understand that people and people’s lives are all different or that differences in likes, abilities, physical and cultural or racial differences are good things and not reasons to fear or exclude or bully.
Difference is good too!
One of my really favourite quotes is this one from the well-known and much loved author AA Milne “The things that make me different are the things that make me”. How important it is to help children realise that their own uniqueness and individuality are things to nurture, value and celebrate – and that this is true for everyone. Difference is not only good but needed too.
I also believe there is such a thing as ‘story therapy’! And by this I mean stories written with the specific aim of nurturing, encouraging, comforting or directing so that they become a gateway for the reader or listener to feel and understand their own emotions or find answers or solutions to difficulties that may be going on in real life.
Strawberry Jam's aims
My aim with Strawberry Jam Books is to create exactly those type of ‘on a secret mission’ stories, from picture book stories that nurture self-worth, caring or friendship; to story-themed projects for schools or children’s groups to stories that are intended to be shared by an adult and child together that help children deal with emotional upheavals.
A lot of authors, parents and teachers prefer children’s books to steer away from what they see as “issues” – thinking stories should be just fun and an escape from real life. Actually, I think children’s stories should always be fun and entertaining and, as fiction, an escape from real life. But I also believe that children’s books have always had the extra purpose of influencing and expanding the minds of young readers or listeners. Stories are unobtrusive and non-threatening and when the natural influence that they have is enhanced they offer children so much more that can add benefit and richness to their minds and lives.