WHEN I was growing up, one of the staples of the summer holidays was Why Don’t You?, a somewhat patronising and counter-intuitive BBC TV programme that extolled its viewers to ‘switch off your television set and go out and do something less boring instead’. To encourage this, the programme itself was deathly dull, leading to a strange sort of stand-off: only the most determined of children could sit through twenty tedious minutes of drama-school children telling bad jokes with sock puppets to get to the televisual treats on the other side.

These days, as a parent myself, I’ve shamelessly done a complete handbrake turn on summer holidays and TV viewing habits. So, if like me, you are trying to keep screen time down over the next month or so, what can you offer up as something less boring instead?

A good starting point is the annual Summer Reading Challenge, held by Salisbury Library. The challenge in run in conjunction with the Reading Agency and the idea is a simple but enticing one: can you read six books over the next six weeks? Books can be of any kind – audio books, joke books and fact books as well as novels. For every book finished, readers get an exclusive sticker to add to their poster.

The Summer Reading challenge has been running for a number of years, each summer with a different theme. While previous years have been focused around different themes, such as Roald Dahl or Animal Secret Agents, this year’s challenge, based around the Beano feels particularly timely. This week, the comic celebrated its 80th birthday, launching back in 1938 as a companion to the Dandy.

While the comic market is declining at a rate of 10 per cent a year, the Beano’s sales rose by eight per cent in 2017. The Beano’s success is partly the story of a publication learning to adapt: two million children use the Beano’s website, while the Dennis the Menace TV show is the top-rated programme on CBBC. But at its heart are the same rebellious characters that appealed to previous generations when they were children too.

That bit of Beano stardust is having its effect on this year’s Reading Challenge too: when I caught up with Philip Tomes, Salisbury Library manager, he told me that the numbers taking part are much higher than last year. In 2017, just under 1,000 children took the reading challenge. This year, the sign-up had reached 625 three days into the summer holidays, with a noticeable surge in boys wanting to take part.

Where once upon a time, reading might have been seen as something only Walter the Softy would have done, now it has the Dennis the Menace seal of approval.