Nicolette Jones’ introduction to Writes of Passage sets out the rationale behind the book and the selections made across its eight, themed chapters. Jones describes how childhood reading is a ‘superior experience’ with ‘a vividness that adults often yearn for.’ I’m not sure quite how tightly that transition can be mapped to the advent of teen-hood, not sure I have made that transition myself, but it would be pedantic to spend too long on this, even if it does drive the book’s title. Instead, let’s focus on something that the book demonstrates quite clearly: the connections that arise from sentiments being ‘expressed over the centuries, by different voices, in different styles.’ Jones flags how we are connected to the past and the comforting consistency of the human experience across time and space. Finally, the introduction makes clear that this is a personal selection, and that she makes no claims to this being a definitive volume that will take pave the way into an enlightened fourteenth year on the planet; they are simply interesting thoughts, expressed well, on a selection of big themes. ‘Skim, savour as you please, and chase up any books or authors you’d like to hear more of’.’
Those big themes include childhood, equality and justice, happiness and sadness. That last theme includes an extract from Michael Rosen’s peerless Sad Book. Rosen’s words prove to be just as powerful, if differently so, away from Quentin Blake’s uniquely sensitive illustrations. This same section includes a short quote from Frances Hardinge. Just twenty-five words, chosen and ordered in such a way that I’ve squirreled them away. James Baldwin, of course, manages to stake his claim in just eleven words. Words that resonate as much now as at the time of writing. Further squirreling. That’s the point. Jones has selected these extracts and pieces based on personal preference and has provided sensitive commentary for each. It’s down to each reader to find what speaks most to them. Let’s just say, if I was given to turning the corners of a page over, the book would have taken a fair hammering.
A section on reading is – shock, horror – a personal highlight. I don’t always enjoy getting meta about my love of reading unless it is done especially well. Here, the opening quote from Alan Bennett’s History Boys touched me very deeply in the way that he captures just why certain books and/or certain authors have touched me very deeply over the years. Writers who have certainly offered a hand that has ‘come out and taken yours.’
Given that we wouldn’t want any panic reading on the eve of a thirteenth birthday, I would happily include this, for browsing and discovering, reading and reflecting, in UKS2 class libraries, as well as in the first two years of secondary.
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