Young readers are left with dusty classics and learn to read with a scary method, safe-learn-read. No wonder, argues Bibi Dumon Tak in her Verwey lecture (NRC, 24/6), that Dutch children are sinking further and further into the swamp of low literacy.
I became curious the twitter thread of Ewald Engelen on which Dumon Tak bases her lecture, in which he asks for book tips for his eight-year-old daughter. To my cheerful surprise, I found a very nice list of tips. Indeed, Matilda, The Little House on the Prairie and The King of Katoren are mentioned, the Bible is also recommended by some. Upturn nose and Pim, which are the peg of the whole lecture, a very dubious honour, are mentioned only once.
People rightly notice that books they dat consider it a classic are unknown pearls to others. Furthermore, they are asked what kind of books the daughter likes, good to know if you want to recommend something to someone. Dumon Tak gets a bit cynical when a dozen classics are presented. On the other hand, you can easily make a list from the same twitter thread that makes you happy. A list of books and authors to keep at hand in the library or bookstore next time. Hold on tight.
1. dissus by Simon van der Geest 2. I’m Vincent and I’m not afraid van Enne Koens 3. The pranks of Reinaert de Vos van Koos Meinderts 4. The King’s Frog Legs by Janneke Schotveld 5. Whoop-Who-Who-Who-Who-WoW by Camilla Dreef 6. Stories for the fox brothers by Lida Dijkstra 7. The day the sea was gone from Awee Prince 8. Bedtime Stories for Rebellious Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo 9. The winged cat by Isabel Hoving 10. The toucan and the camping cook by Peter van Dijk
Oh yes, Bibi Dumon Tak’s own books are also highly recommended by twitterers. I think the eight-year-old daughter can move forward for the time being.
Also read: Pete Bell is dead. Don’t put off young readers with those dusty classics anymore
On to the second problem, that scary reading method. Indeed, the majority of Dutch children learn to read with the method that goes by the name ‘Learning to read safely’. It is a misconception to link this method to ‘the reading problem’ in the Netherlands. Learning to read safely is about technical reading, it replaces the old reading board, with which children learn the technical skill of reading. Our reading problem is no technical reading problem, and the vast majority of primary school children find read nice to very nice. Towards the end of primary school, the motivation to read decreases somewhat, children find it increasingly difficult to find nice books, 43 percent of the group of 8 students do not like the books in the school library.
Every teacher training college student should read at least sixty youth books
The teacher is a source of book tips for few, only 20 percent has a teacher who thinks along with them about new reading adventures. Masters and teachers read too little, that point in Dumon Tak’s argument proudly stands. Every teacher training college student should read at least sixty children’s books during his or her studies, children’s author Jacques Vriens once suggested. He made a tip list, with the note that this can of course be discussed.
In conclusion: Dumon Tak asks for “up-to-date books that answer current questions”. Dumon Tak boasts, rightly, spoon cutternij by Marjolijn Hof. A beautiful book about Janis, a boy who lives on top of a mountain with old Frid. One day Frid doesn’t return from one of his trips to the market, food runs out and Janis goes out into the wide world. The book reminded me a lot of a book I read a few decades ago, Mariken, written by Peter van Gestel. A beautiful book about Mariken, a girl who was abandoned as a baby and raised by the old Archibald in the remote delusional forest. When her goat dies, she goes out into the wide world to buy a new one.
Peter van Gestel based his book on the late medieval miracle play Mariken van Nimwegen. Current books that answer current questions? Classic stories that answer ever-relevant questions.
The list of book tips on which Dumon Tak based her reading turns out not to be as dusty as she made it seem, and the scary reading method is actually not that scary and current books often contain classic stories. What remains are those teacher training students, who above all have to read a lot and in a varied way. I sincerely hope that this lecture contributes to that.