We are always being told that being read to and living in a house with stuffed bookshelves is what it takes to make a child into a reader. While I was growing up the bookshelves were certainly stuffed, but often it was stuff other than books which was mainly contributing to the chaos. No doubt this explains my refusal to arrange my own bookshelves in any order other than the utterly random. I contend that I have a sort of internal map and can locate most books to within a couple of square feet — except of course when I can’t. I was trying to find A Child’s Garden of Verses the other day, but am now reduced to wondering if I gave it away to granddaughters. There’s also a nice old hardback of Edward Lear which is infuriatingly hiding from me. My one exception to this chaos-rules rule is my Library of America books which are in alphabetical order by author, but since they all look exactly the same, this is almost essential, isn’t it? I find I mostly find books by visualizing what they look like and this then yields to a location where a thing that looks like that turns up.

But nobody would have ever described me as a bookworm until I got a job in book publishing. Access made an addict of me. (I didn’t try to get into the business because I loved books: it’s the other way round.) As a child I was more interested in playing touch rugby and riding my bike around town with Muckie, Hugh and Jock. I was generally able to say I was reading a book and not be telling a lie, but it wasn’t that important to me. I think that the way to “make” a bookworm is probably to deprive a child of freedom and companionship. If you lock a child alone in a library they’ll probably come out a reader. To turn this around: I think it is utterly inappropriate to try to make a child be anything, especially a reader. Give them the opportunity, yes, but don’t try to direct them.

The Guardian asks 10 children’s laureates to tell us how the trick can be done. I can’t agree with Michael Morpurgo that a love of reading can start at school: my recollection is that everything I was made to read at school became the object of hatred and aversion (except strangely Goethe’s poems. Thanks Jack Hammer.) I empathize with Quentin Blake’s Oliver Twist problem. I still see that book in the small, loathed, blue cloth edition (Nelson’s?) I was forced to read at school. Like him I did manage to get back to Dickens in later life, but not until I was into my forties. Chris Riddell opines “The greatest barrier to children’s literacy is the lack of a librarian in a school” and goes on to credit his school librarian’s recommendation of The Catcher in the Rye with making him into a reader: a bit circular I fear. I have never been involved with a school that had a librarian, and find the idea rather extravagant!

The laureates write entertainingly but don’t really explain how to turn kids into bookworms — but then who’d expect that such a thing could really be achieved. If it happens it happens. For kids thus afflicted I’d strongly recommend a job in book publishing.