Scrolling through Twitter, I noticed quite a few tweets in support of Zoella (no need to explain who she is as I’m pretty sure all bloggers and readers know her). I didn’t pay those tweets much attention because we’re all used to bloggers constantly being attacked by the more traditional media. But then something caught my eye. Something about reading. About children reading. Since reading is what I love doing and have always loved I quickly scrolled back and investigated those tweets.
Zoella Under Attack
Turns out that experts have decided that Zoella is pretty much the devil incarnate and is responsible for ruining children’s reading ages. Here’s a quote from the Telegraph Children who are reading challenging books during their primary school years start to regress when the reach senior school, a study of literacy levels has revealed (notice a spelling mistake? I didn’t want to correct it since we’re talking reading ability and literacy). This made me think. But before I continue on my war path, let me tell you a story.
Story of a Self-Proclaimed Bookworm
This story starts about 30 to 31 years ago. With a little 4 year old girl, sitting in her bed while her dad read her a book called Andy and The Three Martians. If you’re English, you’ve probably never heard of this book as it was written by a Slovenian author and is actually titled Drejček In Trije Marsovčki (I challenge you to try and pronounce this). It’s a book that children in Slovenia usually read in year 3 or 4. But, let’s get back to that evening when a girl was enjoying listening to a story until… Her dad decided it’s bedtime and stopped. What? No, you can’t. You need to finish. We’re almost at the end of the book. Those were all the words she said. But her dad wasn’t to be swayed. It was a goodnight.
The girl, infuriated that she’ll have to wait for another 24 hours before the book’s finished, marched to her parents in the morning and demanded to be taught to read. And because her parents were cool like that, they taught her. Apparently, as the family legend goes, the girl soon taught her younger brother to read too. After all, he was (and still is) her best friend.
This girl has been reading ever since. And so has her brother. During summer holidays they snuck out of the caravan at night to read with flashlights. You know, Edgar Wallace novels are page turners. She also read Sugar magazine (after all, by the age of 12 she was reading in 3 languages and English was her favourite) and loads of rubbish.
Both children participated in Reading Badge competitions. Schools in Slovenia give children in individual year groups a list of 20 or so books, the children pick 5 that they then read in that school year. If you successfully read all 5 and can talk to your teacher about them, you get a diploma. I’ve got 8 (because in those days primary school in Slovenian lasted for 8 years). And those books are high quality literature appropriate for the age group. Most of the children participate.
In time this girl grew up and went to uni. And decided to study English Language and Literature and because one course isn’t enough, she also enrolled into German Language and Literature. University had a slightly negative impact on her love for books. There were so many prescribed novels to read that reading started to feel more like a chore. But uni doesn’t last forever.
After moving to England, the girl once again spends her every spare minute with a nose stuck in a book.
Why Is Zoella Responsible For Reading Age and Ability
Do you already know where I’m going with this? Yes, Zoella published books. And those books are popular and young adults read them. I’m sorry I can’t provide any critical input on her books, but I don’t think I’m the target audience.
I saw a TV show not too long ago about encouraging children and teenagers to read. And it wasn’t easy. BBC’s The School That Got Teens Reading opens your eyes to a bigger problem. And the problem isn’t Zoella or her books. The problem is that teenagers don’t read and neither do they want to read.
This opens another door. The door to the culture of passing the blame. The culture of pointing fingers.
It seems mainstream media and experts are more than happy to lay all the blame at Zoella’s door. And while Zoe is a huge influencer who impacts lives of more than 11 million subscribers on her YouTube channel, she isn’t the one responsible for the reading age of Britain’s youth. Sorry Zoe, it’s not you, it’s the parents.
Let’s Be Honest
The primary responsibility for children’s and young adults’ reading habits lies with their parents. If our parents encourage us to read as young children, if they instill the love of books in their offspring, we will read as young adults and even as adults. Yes, we will read books other than Dickens and Tolkien and Dostoyevsky, but those only broaden our horizons. We need to read different genres, different styles, authors, books of high and low quality because this gives us the ability to think critically. Ability to compare. Ability to understand.
If the nation is worried about the reading age of our young adults, let’s not point fingers. Let’s do something about it. Let’s invest into our teachers, into our schools. Give the educators time they need to help our children grab that Tolkien or Austen. Give them time to discuss these books with our young adults rather than drowning them in paperwork.
Zoe Sugg, Hat Off To You
Yes, Zoella has published books. That’s common knowledge. But what Telegraph forgot to mention is that she also champions reading. And not only her own books. Zoe is using her influence to promote reading via a book club and via her videos on YouTube.
Maybe this is where online influencers should take note. While it’s not them (us) who are primarily responsible for the reading age of Britain’s generations, we can do our best to help our followers understand that reading and learning are important. Especially, if we’re also published authors. And I think Zoella is doing a good job.
While I’m not her target audience, I think she is one incredible young woman. Yes, she was at the right place at the right time, but so were many others. It always comes down to dedication and a lot of hard work to be where Zoe is, it’s not like it all just fell in her lap. I understand we all get jealous, who wouldn’t love to be their own boss, but in the modern age, we’re all given the opportunities and it is down to us to take them.
What I want to say is that Zoella is a great inspiration to many young adults. She shows that being passionate and willing to work hard pays off. And she champions reading. So, stop pointing fingers and have a look at yourself and think if you’ve done everything in your power to increase the reading age of Britain’s teens.
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And if you enjoy readin, here are the last five books I’ve read:
While My Eyes Were Closed – very good
In The Name of the Family – historical fiction, very interesting
Paulina & Fran – book club read
Behind Closed Doors – a book you won’t be able to put down
Nirzona (A Love Story) – not my cup of tea