Ten reasons to read Biggles today

OIMG_8374[1]ne of my jobs as Patron of Reading at Stewart’s Melville College in Edinburgh is to recommend a Book of the Month. This months it’s Biggles by Captain W E Johns.

I normally recommend more contemporary books, but – inspired by real stories of airmen during WW1, I found myself drawn to Biggles for the first time.

To go alongside the Book of the Month posters at Stewart’s Melville, I am making them an Airfix Sopwith Camel model plane and have written a list of ten reasons a child might want to try reading Biggles.

Here they are:

1. Do you like Anthony Horowitz books? If so, you might like Biggles. Action, fighting, gadgets and killing. Not too much description and not too many feelings.
2. If you want to read about enemy Fokkers being shot down, then there’s plenty of that too.
3. Dislike fiction because it’s not real? Biggles is real. Its author Captain W E Johns flew for the RFC and RAF in WW1 and beyond.     4. Biggles is great read aloud. Encourage someone to read one to you tonight.
5. If you are sick of the same old modern insults your friends are firing at you, try some of the insults used above the trenches 100 years ago. Such as ‘You unspeakable hog!’ and ‘You yellow Hun!’
6. Each chapter of Biggles’ books stand as a story in their own right. You only have to read one chapter to get an idea of what the books are like.
7. Do you respect Chris Ryan or Andy McNab books because you know they are by authors who have also fought real warfare? Likewise Captain Johns.
8. A lot of war literature is about the pity of war and is understandably gloomy and anti-war and, sometimes, a bit of a downer. Biggles is about the glory and heroism involved in fighting for your country, but not ignoring the dark side.
9. The Biggles books are as close as you can get to a manual about how to fly WW1 and WW2 fighter aircraft. That may come in handy.
10. It’s the centenary of WW1. These books are about WW1.

Some of the reasons above might seem a touch glib, seeing as we are commemorating the beginning of WW1. But I hope – in the context of trying to engage children with reading – that I have not gone too far. If I have, please let me know.

Now, where’s that Airfix kit?

Working with the RAF

Over the last two years I have been working closely with the RAF Museum in Cosford and the primary school at nearby Albrighton. It has been invaluable to me as a writer.

Over the next twelve months my Rugby Academy series will be published by Barrington Stoke. (Find out more here.) These books feature children with parents involved in a dangerous RAF humanitarian relief effort. Without the help of both the museum and the school, I would not have been able to write the series.

But there is more.

I visited RAF Cosford today to talk about how we can work together to promote reading for pleasure. The museum has dozens of astonishing artefacts that would stimulate most children. Spitfires. The recently recovered Dornier. A soon-to-be launched exhibition of fragile WW1 planes.

And behind those artefacts there are stories. Each plane – be it from WW1, WW2, the Cold War or between and after – has a wealth of stories that we can engage both boys and girls with. I can attest to this having visited the museum with school children and my ten-year-old daughter.

In fact, it was making an Airfix model with my daughter that inspired my future series of books, due out in 2016.

I am thrilled to announce today that Barrington Stoke will be publishing three books in that series called Wings.

The books will blend the excitement of making model aeroplanes and seeing the real thing at RAF Cosford with the true stories of adventure, sadness, fear and courage that many of the planes in their collection inspire.

I’ll have much more to say about both new series of books and my relationship with RAF Cosford over the next few months.

Thank you for reading.