There’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ children’s book

YESTERDAY I got to see a proof of the forthcoming paperback edition of (shameless plug alert) my book The Liberty Tree, all fantastic graphics and fantastic review quotes (end of shameless plug), and it made me feel so glad that (a) my book exists and (b) all books exist.

There’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ children’s book

Not just because this particular book paid for my kids and I to have a nice camping trip in France, but because without books all we’d have is Twitter and telly. Neither of which you can take in the bath, without crossing major health and safety boundaries.

Years ago, writers Neil Gaiman and Douglas Adams were having a pre-internet conversation about books. Adams said books were like sharks — they had been around forever, because they were the best at being what they are, and as such cannot be improved. E-books are great if you’re travelling on CryinAir or anywhere else where your bag is measured in micrograms and millimeters, but can you put an e-book on your shelf? Admire its cover? Give it to a friend for their birthday?

Gaiman, in a lecture about the future of books, also said that we should let kids read what they want, rather than steering them towards ‘good’ books. The fact that they want to read at all is to be encouraged without applying terms and conditions — so if your kid wants to read comics and graphic novels instead of Jane Eyre, so be it. Jane Eyre can wait.

Comics and graphic novels are not dumbing down — the whole point of reading is connection with the page. Whatever the connection is, it doesn’t matter, so long as there is connection — hence the gigantic sales of Fifty Shades and Mills & Boone. Readers must not have minded how crap it was in terms of the writing, because they were connecting with the page with other non-literary parts of the brain. And why not?

When I was in my early teens, Jane Austen was on the curriculum. To this day, I have never re-read Pride & Prejudice, because having it shoved at me too young put me off it for life. My loss, I know. But in my early teens, all I wanted to read was the kind of stuff my daughter reads now — great big breezeblocks about vampires, fantasy, the supernatural. Awful stuff, but she can’t get enough of it. Twilight and The Hunger Games and all their spin-offs — she reads and reads, devouring this overheated teenage pap as the books I send her way — To Kill A Mocking Bird, more Jane Austen — languish on her bedside table, covered in dust. Whatever. All the matters is that she reads.

The trick is to avoid the movie of the book. Having taken them to see the Jane Eyre film, neither of my kids now wants to read the book. “We know what happens in the end, so what’s the point,” they say. Oh dear. Own goal.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

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