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Don't let reading be dumbed down by celebrity children's authors

Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, C S Lewis, J K Rowling, Julia Donaldson, A A Milne, Kenneth Graham, Michael Bond...

This list of fantastic children's authors could go on and on. But the question I ask today is, when did young children stop engaging with these writers and demand books written by celebrities instead?

This subject reached a crisis point this week with the announcement of the line-up for 2018's World Book Day which reads as a who's who of celebrity rather than a role-call of top children's literary talent.

We have Clare Balding, Julian Clary, Tom Fletcher and Nadiya Hussain headlining the programme, much to the contention of many an authentic children's author for whom writing is their craft and their lifetime's pursuit.

This needs to stop. Slowly over the years it has become an acceptable thing for a celebrity to do it all. They no longer stay in the arena in which they became famous. It is OK for them to turn their hand to fashion design, make-up, cookery, fitness with next to no experience or understanding.

Books have become the latest phenomenon, with celerities who have been in the public eye for half an hour bringing out their autobiographies. But worse still, they are now writing fiction.

If you are a celebrity with children it now seems a right that you bring out your own series of children's books, regardless of the fact you have never shown an ability to write before and still haven't, judging by how much of a celebrity's book is ghost-written – in many cases, all of it.

Supporters of celebrity children's authors argue it is a good way to get a child engaged in reading if they first turn to a book written by their favourite famous person. But why this great need to dumb down the experience of reading for children?

Why are we underestimating a child's ability to go into a bookshop or a library and choose a book from amongst the best of children's authors rather than directing them to a book which has a recognisable face on the back cover.

There is a growing problem with getting children to read but that comes from a lack of inspiration from the grown-ups around them. They need to have those screens taken out of their little hands and have their minds opened up to the adventures of the Famous Five, the wonder of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the comforting hug of Winnie-the-Pooh and the idyllic escapism of The Wind in the Willows.

Once you get a child understanding the pleasure of escaping to the worlds hidden within books' pages, they will be hooked. Let's do that with the very best that children's literature has to offer, not through the latest contestant to win The Great British Bake Off.

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