A True and Worthy Star of Children's Literature

The Birmingham Post (England), October 11, 2004 | Go to article overview

A True and Worthy Star of Children's Literature


Byline: Sarah Evans

There is more of just about everything for children today. You have entire shops devoted to bright-coloured plastic toys, others to wholesome wooden ones, themed ones around Disney, ones devoted just to fantasy games, ones with an emphasis on learning and ones the size of a supermarket with the whole lot.

I am pleased - I think - to say the same is true of children's literature. Every adult can confirm it wasn't like this when they were young. While not exactly wanting to say the highlight of the day was reading the wall paintings, the choice was tiny compared with the complete industry that is now children's books.

It is not simply the Harry Potter phenomenon. Every age, interest, ethnic group, every political sensitivity and sector has its own literature. Some of it is brilliant and some of it is not. The odd thing is we are still wringing our hands about the lack of reading children do and when they do it, how little they pick up. There was a revealing interview in a paper recently with playwright Mark Ravenhill, claiming that if you give a new script to anyone under 25, they can't get through it.

So mere quantity of choice does not appear to be the answer to a literate and discriminating readership.

There is a body of thought that says it doesn't matter much. It is rather cool to say that so long as children can use a computer and read how to install a disc, skim bits of facts, all is well. Emotional literacy can be gained just as well from 'the movies' as books.

Up to a point. There are lots of children's films of course, just as there is lots of children's everything, but much of it is quite awful and rarely tries to extend a child's range of emotions. Just watch Saturday morning TV.

So at the end of National Children's Book Week, what makes a good children's book?

Stories are important. Stories help children to decode feelings and the suffering of others. They help children start to understand patterns, actions and consequences. But not just any story. Some are much better than others and some take children far further. Which is why reading with and to children is a good idea. It is shared time, shared stories and adults can show the signposts that lead to adult discrimination.

The variety in style, characterisation and theme is enormous too. …

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