My teenage nightmare
comedian and bookworm Javone Prince on the daunting prospect of inspiring teens to start reading…
Javone Prince and the new book-loving pupils
For many of us, the thought of giving a presentation to a room of teenage school pupils would turn us into quivering wrecks – let alone trying to convince them to swap social media and TV for books.
But that’s exactly what actor and comedian Javone Prince has to do in BBC2’S one-off documentary
The School That Got Teens Reading.
As part of the BBC’S Lovetoread campaign, Javone was invited to spend three weeks at Ripley St Thomas Academy, a top secondary school in Lancaster, in a bid to inspire a group of reluctant pupils to fall in love with literature.
The teachers had tried every traditional trick in the book
– from a new library to putting reading on the timetable. So they decided it was time for a more unconventional approach and asked Javone, who has no formal educational training, only a genuine passion for reading, to shake things up in the classroom.
‘It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done – I was petrified,’ shudders Javone, as he chats to TV Times.
‘I’ve been on stage, done standup and been put on the spot a lot for acting – all fine. But schoolkids – no. They can see and smell your fear. They can tell if you’re a fraud.’
Javone, who has dyslexia, chose pupils who hadn’t read in over a year, then gave them 24 hours to read some of Sarah Crossan’s award-winning young adult fiction novel One.
However, he soon realised he had his work cut out when most failed to even read a page, preferring to browse social media pages or watch Netflix.
‘I thought they’d listen to me, they’d think: “I’m a cool guy, I’m on TV”,’ laughs Javone, who has starred in C4 comedy Phoneshop and has his own BBC2 sketch show, The Javone Prince Show.
‘I was offended! I was like: “It’s not the book, they really hate me”.
‘I found myself up against Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TV. This generation is about instant access. They haven’t got time for reading.
‘So I had to think of new things to get them interested, such as role-play exercises to get them into the mind of the characters.’
Javone’s a regular on acclaimed CBBC series Horrible Histories, and believes that similarly we just need to find new ways to make reading more accessible for today’s teenagers.
‘We have to move with the times,’ he says. ‘The reason I wanted to do this programme was because I wish someone had told me how amazing reading was when I was a 15-yearold. It was so rewarding.’
is PREVIEWED on PAGES 36-37 livia, 15, diagnosed with dyslexia 18 months ago, tells us how the programme has helped her…
‘I’d never seen Javone before he came into the school,’ says olivia. ‘He came across well and inspired me when he talked about his own dyslexia. He said he found it hard as well, but you must keep pushing yourself.
‘Before, I wasn’t fussed about reading, but the programme has built my confidence. now I read for 15-20 minutes before I go to bed. He has shown me that just because I have dyslexia doesn’t mean I’m going to do badly in life. ‘For a long time I thought I could never achieve anything as I’ve never done well in tests, but it’s taught me if I push myself I can get to that level.
‘In my english exam I usually get 15 out of 50, but I got half marks this time, which I’m so happy about. If I do well in my Gcses, I’m hoping to do a-levels as I want to be a dentist.’
Javone Prince with olivia