The other day I noticed a kid reading on the ferry. He was about 11 or 12, a normal-looking sporty kind of kid who likes cricket and has his own surfboard. His dad was talking to him, his sister poked him a few times. He didn't even look up. He was so engrossed in his book that his dad had to force him to stand up when we docked. He kept reading all the way down the stairs and across the gangplank, his dad carefully watching his precarious progress.
But of course, we all know sporty boys don't read. Do they?
So what was he reading?
Just Disgusting, by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton.
I read my nephew's copy of their Just Stupid at Christmas and it was pretty stupid. And cool and funny and even sometimes wise. They are wicked short stories, told by Andy as if he were a kid, about being rude and farting and picking your nose and picking on other kids and teasing your sister. And boys love them.
Griffiths has just been appointed an ambassador for this year's Premier's Reading Challenge in Victoria.
He's probably best known for everyone's favourite naughty titles, The Day My Bum Went Psycho and Bumageddon - The Final Pongflict. The Bad Book (also with Terry Denton) was banned by a handful of schools and bookshops.
"For a lot of kids, I think the key to the door to start reading is to make it fun," Griffiths told The Age. "For some kids that will be humour, for some it will be fantasy adventure, but once you're in, it doesn't really matter how you got there."
"I get letters from parents saying 'my kid was not interested in reading or he didn't read at all and then we found one of your books ... and now he's reading lots of different books'."
The National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy report, released in December, showed that although Australian schoolchildren ranked in the top four in reading for OECD countries in 2003, 8 per cent of year 3 children and 11 per cent of year 5 and 7 children did not meet minimum national benchmarks. Results for indigenous children were even worse.
Griffiths said: "One thing that concerns me is that many primary schools don't have a full-time librarian. That really horrifies me because someone has to be in touch with what's going on with books and with the kids and be able to put the right book in the right hand at the right time. And I certainly think the research is in now on the benefits of 15 minutes of [parents] reading to a child a day."
The annual Premier's Reading Challenge encourages children from prep to year 9 to read 15 books (30 for prep to grade 2) by August 30. Ten of the books (20 for prep to grade 2) are to be from a recommended list of 3800 titles. The full list comes out this weekend. I bet The Day My Bum Went Psycho is on it.