Posted in Family, Reading

A Book is A Book: In Praise of the Argos Catalogue – Reflections on Children’s Reading after World Book Day 2017

An opinion piece about World Book Day costumes in support of the boy who dressed as the Argos catalogue

Screenshot of tweeted pic of boy as Argos catalogue

It’s unusual for the morning news to make me smile, so this morning’s report on BBC Today programme about Bristol mum Vicki Bowles who sent her son to school dressed as the Argos catalogue was a welcome change.

“Well, it is his favourite book,” she explained.

There can’t be many parents who have ever had an Argos catalogue in the house with whom this didn’t resonate. No matter how many wonderful storybooks you provide, for children of a certain age, the lure of the Argos catalogue has almost magical powers, especially the winter edition, when the toy section is expanded. Entering its pages has the allure of the Narnian wardrobe, allowing admission to a magical land where money is no object and you might have any or all of the toys you could wish for.

The Magical Lure of the Argos Catalogue

Argos logo
Gosh, it’s just struck me how similar their logo is to Amazon’s

If you’re not familiar with the Argos catalogue, which I think is a UK-only brand, it’s a massive free catalogue of around 1,000 pages of Bible-thin paper but printed in full colour, promoting the vast range of goods available from its many stores around the country.

Argos shops are little more than warehouses with a trade counter in front, front. You choose your desired item from the catalogue either at home or in-store, take the product number to the till or to a machine, pay, and queue at the counter to collect your item. The process is iconic and unique, and to those of a certain age, waiting for your item to appear on the conveyor belt from the mysterious depths of the concealed warehouse, has the same frisson of excitement as watching the prizes move slowly across the screen in front of contestants on that old Saturday prime-time TV favourite, The Generation Game.

Retaining its Appeal in the Digital Age

They’ve updated the model to allow for online browsing, ordering and delivery, and for checking and reserving stock before you visit a store. However you shop with them, it’s a no-frills service that keeps prices down but also offers excellent customer care, and I believe it looks after its staff well too.

A relative who worked for them one Christmas told me they were advised when dealing with difficult customers to err on the side of their own safety, as no product was more important than themselves.

On the other hand, another relative who had worked for them as a student told me it sealed the offer for a much more demanding customer service job later on, because, in the words of his interviewer, “if you can handle Argos customers, you can handle anyone”.

But back to the catalogues…

Free Catalogues for All

Cover of an Argos catalogue
Drawing you in with its magical powers…

Twice a year, huge piles of catalogues are made available in store for shoppers to collect free of charge, encouraging them to pore over at home. I am sure that pester power from children does a lot to shift these vast supplies. My daughter certainly used to clamour for one, and spent many happy hours browsing its pages, around the time that she still believed in Father Christmas.

Nostalgia for the Old Mail-Order Equivalents

Although Argos wasn’t around when I was a child, I remember lying for hours on my stomach on our living room carpet reading and re-reading the toy section in my mum’s mail order catalogue, Kays, which was much the same thing, for a different era, only patience was required as you had to wait for everything to be delivered by the postman.

We also had the Littlewoods one at one point, but I always preferred Kays. I’d read the descriptions over and over again for the items I coveted, till I could practically recite them, like a magical incantation. It didn’t stop me reading other books, it just added a new dimension to my literary canon.

It might be one reason why I naturally took to writing short fiction later in life, enjoying the facility to capture a whole story in very few words.

But It Gets Kids Reading!

While it’s easy for book snobs to be cynical about the catalogue – and I confess I’ve done it myself, laughing when a friend self-deprecatingly told me that she had only two books in her house and one of those was by Argos – my years spent working for national children’s charity Readathon convinced me that actually it’s fine if that’s what your child wants to read. The important thing is that they’re reading something, and learning to associate reading with pleasure and empowerment – even if it’s only how to spell what they want to put on their Christmas list.

Reading anything they enjoy will boost their confidence and enthusiasm for reading.

It helps form an immovable leisure habit that is well known to lead to happier, more successful and more fulfilled lives – not only academically but in relationships and other aspects of one’s daily life. (You’ll find more about this on the Readathon website.)

Reading to the Beat of a Different Drummer

While some children take naturally to reading what parents or teachers might choose for them – my thirteen-year-old daughter’s teacher recommended the classics at Parents’ Evening recently, while her preference is for Harry Potter – others find their own paths, and should be allowed to do so.

Photo of Garfield books
Garfield taught my daughter to read

 

I gave up trying to make my daughter read my prescribed books when she discovered her own preferences. I have Garfield to thank for her eventual reading fluency – she used to sleep with Jim Davis’s cartoon strip collections under her pillow. Wry humour was the key that unlocked her enthusiasm for reading. Mo Willems was another of her passions.

I’m sad that she’s too old for dress-up days at school now but was heartened that she told her friends yesterday that she was actually being Hermione Granger for World Book Day, but under a disguise spell providing her usual school uniform.

Cover of "We are in a book!" by Mo Willems
Humour helped my daughter learn to love books

Why Readathon Gets Children Reading for Life

One reason that Readathon is so effective as an organisation in encouraging children to read for pleasure is that the sponsored reading programme that it runs for schools allows participants to choose their own reading list. It might be books on a particular theme, such as all the Harry Potter books, or books about horses or any other interest the child has, or it might be reading comics or magazines or even food packaging or computer game manuals. Audio books and other vehicles for words are also allowable.

For parents whose children have struggled with literacy, watching them pore over the messages on a packet of cereal over breakfast for the first time can be an incredibly moving moment:  the moment that their child discovers the joy and the power of reading

drawing of people and animals emerging from a book
Unlocking the power of books – illustration for Readathon by Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell

Trying Not to Judge

So next time you’re taken aback by what might at first seem a child’s inappropriate choice of World Book Day costume, don’t judge – just embrace their individual approach. As long as they’re reading, they’ll be just fine.

PS

Though to be honest, I’m still not sold on last year’s most controversial costume – the kid who went to school as Christian Grey from the infamous Fifty Shades, because I’m sure – or at least I hope – that wasn’t his own book of choice. Dorian Grey, I could have forgiven. Ok, so maybe I am a book snob after all!

And finally, a question: What’s YOUR favourite guilty reading pleasure? Mine would have to be the Cath Kidston catalogue! (Sorry, Argos!)

  • If you’d like to find out more about Readathon, and great reasons to get your child’s school involved, visit their website here: www.readathon.org
  • To find out more about World Book Day, click here: http://www.worldbookday.com
  • To read more about why I’m so passionate about books, check out the talk I gave recently when I was honoured to be the judge of the Westonbirt School Inter-House Reading Competition: For the Love of Books

Author:

Optimistic author, blogger, journalist, book reviewer and public speaker whose life revolves around books. Her first love is writing fiction, including the new Sophie Sayers Village Mystery novels (out 2017), short stories and essays inspired by her life in an English village. She also writes how-to books for authors and books about living with Type 1 diabetes. She is Author Advice Centre Editor and and UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) Advice Centre blog, an ambassador for the children's reading charity Readathon, and an official speaker for the diabetes research charity JDRF.

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