Just before Easter we got to hear Michael Morpurgo live in conversation with Nicolette Jones at the Sheldonian as part of the Oxford Literary Festival. Morpurgo is one of my son’s favourite authors and was speaking on his birthday, so it was an ideal birthday outing. The conversation covered topics from the personal to the political and engaged all ages.
However there were three things that he emphasised as being key for today’s children:
It seems that the experts in education are forever telling us that children need to be connecting with nature, so this isn’t news. But however much the message resonates, time seems to be scarce. Morpurgo and his wife Clare have made time, and space. They are so committed to making opportunities for inner city children to be outdoors, to experience rural living and learn about farming that they set up the charity Farms for City Children. Groups of school children come for a week to live and get involved on working farms around the country. Such a wonderful vision. So much can be learned out of the classroom whilst enjoying nature.
If you are familiar with Morpurgo’s work, you will know that many of his stories are historical fiction. He brings to life past events in a way that engages children without dumbing down the ideas or facts. Morpurgo told us that he loves history and remembers reading lots of works by Rosemary Sutcliffe, Geoffrey Trease and Ronald Welch as a child. These authors all breathe life into history in the same way Morpurgo and Kevin Crossley-Holland are doing today.
Morpurgo highlighted the need for children not just to read history haphazardly or study a textbook but to learn history chronologically, to start at the beginning, have an understanding of the sweep of events, of empires coming and going, for children to see they are part of a bigger story. And he argued that this should be complimented by reading historical fiction to bring history alive. So often children learn about the Egyptians one term and then Tudors the next, but Morpurgo would love to see today’s children have a bigger sense of time. One of the joys of our last few years of homeschooling was being able to do just that. We loved reading a little bit of Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World each week. It is a great read aloud for home or the classroom.
Reading Aloud to Children
Perhaps it is partly that we need to love books ourselves as parents, grandparents and teachers in order to pass on that passion for stories to our children. It’s not about testing and reading schemes, but about loving stories and passing on that passion to our children.”
— Michael Morpurgo
Well, as you can imagine, this was music to my ears and of course no surprise! Morpurgo has fond memories of his mother reading Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. He spoke of the strong bond with his mother as he sat on her lap or curled up by her and listened to her voice rhythmically read beautiful stories that took him to far away lands and helped him understand the world just a little more. Morpurgo encouraged us all to read aloud, read aloud and read aloud some more to our children, even when they can read for themselves. He would love to see this in more classrooms, for more time to be allowed in the week for teachers to slow down and read aloud to the children in their care.
As Morpurgo spoke, he was passionate and endearing in his trademark red jacket. He and his wife Clare are living by what they believe. It was a wonderful spur to do the same.