What a growing lad needs is a naughty book, says Blair

THOUGH HE was not much of a role model to inhabitants of Tolkien's Middle Earth, Gollum, the hissing, twisted jewellery thief central to The Lord of the Rings, is the key to encouraging more boys to take up reading, according to the Prime Minister.

Tony Blair believes children will increase their appetite for reading if parents read them "naughty" books with mischievous characters.

Mr Blair will encourage more fathers to read with their sons in an effort to increase their literacy skills. The "Dads and Lads" initiative is part of the Government's National Year of Reading campaign.

The campaign starts today with an interview on Radio 4's Woman's Hour, in which Mr Blair tells how his father used to read him the stories of Robert Louis Stevenson and how he has continued the practice with his own children.

He lists his `literature for lads" which includes Tolkien's Lord of The Rings, the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novels charting Sherlock Holmes.

The Prime Minister also stresses the importance of subversion evident in the works of Roald Dahl. Mr Blair said: "I think he was one of the first who would write in a slightly naughty way, which makes books intriguing and interesting."

Other "naughty" books that found favour with Mr Blair's children include the fantasy adventures of Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall series abut woodland animals set in medieval times; Paul Jennings, co-author of the Wicked! series of children's thrillers; and Robin Jarvis, author of the Wyrd Museum trilogy.

Last night the Prime Minster received broad support for the "Dads and Lads" scheme but others described his choice of material as "a bit dull" and urged him to highlight more relevant contemporary works.

Anne Barnes, general secretary of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said: "The Prime Minister's choices are a bit dated because of some of the class systems and values evident in those works but that does not necessarily mean much to children so long as there is a strong narrative and interesting characters.

"I think the answer to fostering interest in reading is to follow the interests of the child.Parents should also try to read something which interests them because a child will pick up on the adult's enthusiasm.

"I'm not sure how many fathers will start reading to their sons because Tony Blair says so but the fact remains that we should support any effort to increase reading among boys."

The Government's focus on boys rather than girls at the start of the National Year of Reading has been prompted by research showing a widening "gender-gap" which has seen girls outstripping their male fellow-pupils at all exam levels.

Research by the National Literacy Trust revealed that primary school boys view reading as wimpish and avoid it, a view often carried through life.

Lads' Literature

The Narnia books

CS Lewis

Lord of the Rings

JRR Tolkein

Sherlock Holmes books

Arthur Conan Doyle

Kidnapped

RL Stevenson

Pickwick Papers

Charles Dickens

Ivanhoe

Walter Scott

The Wyrd Museum trilogy

Robin Jarvis

The Redwall books

Brian Jacques

Wicked!

Paul Jennings and Morris Gleitzman

The titles chosen by Tony Blair for World Book Day, `Desert Island Discs' and the National Year of Reading

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