Thursday, 17 April 2008

Children's Books

...are excellent, at the moment. Their morality is striking and confident, their approach to the big issues intriguing and daring, and their lack of easy cop outs unexpected.

I'm not talking about _all_ children's books, of course; it just seems on my recent reading that they are prepared to say and imply things that a lot of adult fiction doesn't want to: it's sort of hidden itself in political certainty, drink, sex, and light comedy. Novels which tackle big subjects often seem to have their author's prejudices barely disguised at all (ie the numerous books I've read where the priest turns out to be evil/loses his faith/dies horribly). By contrast, children's books such as Catcall by Linda Newbery approach family structures (say) with depth and insight and an acknowledgement that the modern cliches we use to make ourselves feel better about what are self-centred choices ("it would be much harder on the kids if we didn't split up...") don't carry the explanatory power we think they do. In this book the agonies of two young boys are examined in depth and without the simplicity of worldview that I would now expect from a lot of adult books (ie the children are just fine).

One thing I will say: the grammar and sentence structure of many modern children's books is much simpler than the grammar of even, say, Enid Blyton books. It is really telling that very bright children often have trouble reading classic children's novels ("When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit" for example): they find the sentences very hard to follow. They don't deal well with multiple subclauses and trains of thought or description that cascade through independent clauses - semi colons, especially. The lengthy, thoughtful or continuous sentence that was a staple of literature is hard for modern children to understand. Is that a flaw of teaching, or a movement of language? I think it goes a little further. Although children's books are excellent, the "young adult" fiction sub-genre is a little bit more inconsistent: too many authors seem to view "shopping&fucking" as a synonym for "adult" - leaving genuine explorations of the depth that intelligent teenagers might be expected to understand somewhat squeezed. It's also here that I think political certainties undermine otherwise well written stories (on occasion - such as The H-Bomb Girl, discussed last week).

Writing generally and impressionistically like this is problematic and I've added almost no examples to support my case - but hey, it's what I do.

1 comment:

Liz said...

When my children were teenagers - or reading teenage books - the choice was very limited. Apart from a number of hideous series - the names of which I have wiped from my mind - there were about 5 decent authors. And largely aimed at girls. I think it has changed a little now.