An evening with Book Links National Patron Jackie French on the Power of Story
Time stood still on Monday, May 30 as Jackie French spoke about why governments ignore the Power of Story at their peril.
Jackie spoke of the Power of Story to change lives. Here is a video of Jackie reading from “Pennies for Hitler” which she has read to over 100 000 students.
She always asks the children if the main character will kill the ‘enemy’. She said that the vast majority of children err on the side of compassion. Jackie said that, “most of my books have very little fiction in them”, and recalled a tale of a dear friend who had experienced three years of hate in England during WW2, yet, on immigrating to Australia, was saved by a kind Australian soldier who gave him a warm jacket and a big pile of sandwiches. Jackie’s friend had told her that, “all it needed was one act of kindness to wipe out three years of hatred”. Jackie said that story has the power to teach children hugely important things such as kindness overcoming hatred.
Books and reading matter!
Jackie spoke of the power of story, and that it’s what makes reading matter. She said that “the heart of every school is the teacher librarian”, which was warmly welcomed by the audience, many of whom were undoubtedly teacher librarians. She said that books matter as they improve, enhance, stimulate and strengthen our intelligence. That with scientific research, it has been proven as a fact. Reading stimulates the ‘muscles’ in the brain. And creators matter too, as what they create allows children to grow.
Using bribery to get kids to read
We learned that bribery can bring children around to the power of story. Jackie spoke of how she asks children if reading is boring, and a surprising 80% reply that it is. Jackie explained that, “We are kids’ enablers. They are not going to find the books by themselves. We need to teach them how to find books”. She encouraged us to try bribery to get kids reading. Like cocoa and marshmallows. “Do not underestimate bribery. Bribery is worth it – it only takes a chocolate frog for five minutes of reading. And that one book may be the magic book that gets them reading”.
Changes to the Australian Publishing Industry
Jackie spoke about how the power of Australian story will be diminished if recent recommendations by the Productivity Commission on stopping parallel import restrictions are acted upon. She said that it is impossible to quantify the value of reading. And that it’s a myth that books are cheaper overseas. She mentioned that in New Zealand, books got more expensive with the abolition of parallel import restrictions, and the publishing industry suffered greatly. She said that, “We are so passionately the people of the books that we don’t justify the value of books to economists”. And nor do the economists look at the actual numbers associated with creative industries, such as the fact that one in four jobs in Australia are in the creative industries. Jackie sees this as the most important issue that the Australian Publishing industry is facing, and is the biggest threat to the power of Australian story.
A few memorable quotes from Jackie about the power of story
- “I have a book a day habit”.
- “We read because it’s fun! Reading is good for us whether we are 9 or 99. But that’s not why we read”.
- “You don’t have to finish a book. A book is paper, not a crocodile. It’s not going to snap your fingers off if you don’t finish it”.
- “We need to get parents to keep reading to kids until they say, stop, this is embarrassing. Which will never happen”.
- “Kids need complex books. If you can read a sentence. You can read a paragraph. If you can read a paragraph, you can read a page. And if you can read a page, you can read 140 pages”.
In closure, Jackie read from her upcoming novel, “Goodbye Mr Hitler”, due out in 2017. News welcomed with enthusiasm from the crowd. She said that this is the most important book that she has written, and that it is focused on forgiveness. She read the opening and closing of her new book, which had been approved by her editor minutes before she took to the stage, and had everyone hooked. If only we didn’t have to wait so long for the book’s release.
Jackie spoke of Book Links, saying that “Book Links is Books and links between people and books. It is entirely, wonderfully, enormously open ended”.
Book Links – the Centre for Children’s Literature would like to thank Jackie, Riverbend Books, and the enthusiastic crowd for making this such a successful, and inspiring event. We love having Jackie on board as our National Patron, and look forward to many years of advocating the Power of Story together.