Children’s Literature

I’ve started, and abandoned, three drafts of this blog post already this morning.  For those of you who are used to my blogs popping into your inbox bright and early, I apologise for the delay!  Today is a prime example of knowing what you want to write, knowing you can write about it, but just not being able to get the words to form an orderly queue on the page.

I tried to write this blog the first time – it came out too angry.  I tried again – it came out as a sarcastic rant.  I’m hoping that it’ll be third time lucky.

I want to write about the value and beauty of children’s literature.  Now is not the time or place to write about the history of the genre; there are those far better able to do that than I am.  But I do deeply want to make the point that writing for children is not easy or simplistic; writing for children is harder, I think, than writing for adults.  I definitely believe that books written for children are far more valuable, page for page, than books written for adults.  Adults, when the newest literary blockbuster is published, will stand around at book launches ‘yah-yahing’ to one another over glasses of white wine, discussing the artistic and critical merit of the latest offering.  ‘Oh, it’s so postmodern‘, one will say, and nobody can contradict or agree because nobody has read it, or has any idea what it’s about.  Anyway, everyone goes home after the launch, full of wine, clutching their copies of the book (signed, hopefully); the book will be slotted neatly into the adult’s bookshelf, never to see the light of day again.  It won’t be brought home and loved.  Children can’t be bothered with this sort of thing.  Plus, they really shouldn’t be drinking wine.

If a children’s book doesn’t have a plot that makes you want to stay awake at night to finish reading, and characters that are so real you expect them to walk around the corner at any moment, and isn’t absolutely, water-tight believable, then you’re going to have a lot of children reading as far as chapter 3 or 4, before throwing the book to one side and moving on to something else.  The book can be set on a far-distant planet, or in a boarding school in deepest, darkest Scotland, or in an egg-shaped submersible twenty miles below the sea, or whatever.  The more outlandish the better, probably.  But it has to be perfect in terms of its ability to hold itself together.  Children don’t just read books because their parents/guardians like a particular author – the story has to be good.  All they’re interested in are books that make them feel as if they’ve been immersed into the world of the story – and that’s why I love those sort of books, and why I hope, very much, that I’ll be able to create books like this.

Then, there’s the argument that children can’t possibly read books that are about ‘serious’ subjects.  I’ve had people ask me would I not consider writing for adults, where you can really get to grips with the ‘big issues’.  I feel sorry for people like this.  Where do issues get any bigger than in the worlds created in children’s books?  Where else do you get to be an ordinary kid who suddenly has to save his whole family, or the one person he loves most, or the whole world?  Where else do you get to be a girl who has to draw on every drop of her courage and strength to fight against evil, or to survive in order to save her sister, or to figure out how to cope with the onset of unexpected and violent change?  Children’s books are defined by the ‘big issues’.  Some adult books are about middle-class people and their worries about who has a bigger garden, or whose wife is prettier (all right, so I’m being reductive.  But you know what I mean); in good children’s books, the entirety of human experience can be laid out on the page.  And as for children not being exposed to violence, or sorrow, or pain – should we write children’s books that are all about things like this?

Life’s not all rainbows.  In the news this morning, I’m reading about two small girls who survived the massacre of their whole family.  In my own country, we have reports into the abuse of children being published, and a little boy who met a violent end was buried yesterday. All over the world, images of children suffering because of war caused by (you’ve guessed it) adults saturate the media.  Children are aware of all this.  They can’t close the covers of the world, and stop reading when they want to; in the news, there’s no hero to make everything right.  In their own lives, they often feel as though they can do nothing to make their world better.  In books, they get that chance.  Children are not stupid, and they don’t deserve to be treated that way.  They deserve literature that stretches them, makes them think, gives them the confidence to deal with the world, shows them that they can do it, that they can be the hero.  That’s why I love it.

Whew.  All right, so this version was a bit angry, sarcastic and ranty, too.  Please forgive me!  Have a wonderful Friday, everyone…

One thought on “Children’s Literature

  1. Pingback: The Idea-Making Machine | SJ O'Hart

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