YouTube still from 'T reads Rhyme Crime by Jon Burgerman!' by Father Reading
I recently watched one of CBeebies Bedtime Stories with Mark Ronson, who was reading Jon Burgerman's picture book, Rhyme Crime.
...Except he wasn't reading, he was speaking to the screen, interspersed with formatted-for-telly graphics from the book. We never saw the actual book itself.
BBC graphic from Jon Burgerman's Rhyme Crime picture book
I think this is a big problem. Why? From doing events, I've seen how children don't seem to make the mental jump from hearing a story and seeing on-screen images to realising a book is a thing they could hold, and read from. When I do events, I put the picture book pages on screen, so everyone can see even from the back row. But I've noticed that when I only refer to the screen images as I read the story, and don't hold the book, there's very little uptake at the end, the kids don't ask their parents for their own copy of the book, or ask their teacher if they can find the book in their school library. So I learned to hold the book during my events, read from it even when the images are on-screen, and the children seem much more able to make the connection.
The BBC has good reason not to allow product placement on its shows; it's a publicly-funded channel and we don't want children subjected to endless adverts that make them want things they can't have, or are bad for them, such as sugar cereal or sweets. Here's an explanation on the CBeebies website:
But why can't books be an exception to this rule? Would it really be so harmful if children watched a storytime show, and then wanted books to hold and read for themselves? The BBC wouldn't have to push the commercial angle of reading, they could encourage children to go and check out the book at the library. Encouraging children to read on their own only seems like a win in terms of children's well-being. And a boost to libraries, who could use a boost in this time of library cuts, when they need to show people are still using their services. I know there are many homes that have televisions, but in which children (and sometimes grownups) own no books at all. Many children have no idea that they can go to a library and check out a book without having to pay anything. The thought of going to the library doesn't even occur to them or their parents or carers. Why wouldn't the BBC want to give libraries and reading that extra boost?
In Leicester, there was such a problem with children not reading or having any books that the School Development Support Agency set up a scheme called 'Whatever It Takes', saying that they would do whatever it takes to get children reading. This led to an annual Author Week, where school children are bused to the Tiger Rugby Club to hear talks and take part in workshops led by children's book writers and illustrators. Each child gets to take home their own signed copy of the featured book, and for many children, it's the first book they own. The SDSA knew owning books was a good thing. Why doesn't the BBC?
Discerning adults can work out that people are talking about books on telly. In yesterday's The One Show with writer Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler, the BBC team surrounded their discussion with pictures Axel had created for their new book, The Smeds and the Smoos. It was wonderful to see both writer and illustrator together on telly!
Unlike on CBeebies Storytime, they did show a graphic of the actual book cover. But it was on a screen, and markedly cold and distant from the cosy grouping of creators chatting. How different could this have been, if Julia and Axel could have been proudly holding, touching and looking at the actual object they made, lit in the warm companionable light between them?
The BBC even tweeted about the book:
So it's obvious that the BBC are pro-book. But I think they're missing something vital, none of these are ways that children will connect with the concept of the book itself. I understand that reading from a book at length might not work well for the format of telly. But even if Mark Ronson, or Julia or Axel could have come on holding a physical copy of the book, that would have meant so much more to any child watching: It's a book! That famous person is holding a book. I could hold a book, too! Maybe I could even read it. And the BBC wouldn't have to splash out money for their own copies of the book; there's no author or publisher who wouldn't be more than happy to provide a book when they appear on a BBC programme.
The BBC is a huge monolith and my small voice won't make much difference. But if the whole book community starts asking questions about this, perhaps people in charge will listen. You can link to studies by The Reading Agency, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, the UK Literary Association, BookTrust, Scottish Book Trust, the National Literacy Trust and other valuable charities that make massive efforts to try to get kids reading. But children thinks the world of telly; if the BBC can promote reading with actual books, it could make more of a difference than anything else.
BBC, please, can you make an exception for children's books and allow physical copies of books on your programmes?
Edit: A few tweets from the book community:
EDIT 2: Philip Jones at The Bookseller has picked up the piece here, slightly edited to include quotations and the response my agent mentioned that she received last year from CBeebies.