Wednesday, 16 December 2009

What you will read is what you will be allowed to read.

Nicola Morgan has, quite rightly, suggested that a writer should read widely within the genre they are writing in or for. That is the why to find out what is likely to appeal to publishers. Fair enough.
Now, the little problem. Adults choose books that they believe adults will want to read. Adults also choose books that they believe children will want to read - and should read. I suspect that the selection process for a children's book is very different from that for an adult book. (If you are reading this Nicola please correct me if I am wrong.)
If the rest of you disbelieve me head along to the library shelves and take a look at what is there. Read the blurbs on the dust jackets or on the backs of the endless paperbacks. There will be (a) books about social issues - thinly disguised as stories about other things and (b) formulaic undemanding stories that are crude copies of the genuine article.
Okay, that is an exaggeration of course. There will be other things but much of the shelf space will be taken up with those two things. Adults have the advantage. They can dictate what children will read. The child who wants to read will read it. They will read it because it is there. It is, in their view, not too bad but it could be better too. If they do not have access to 'ordinary adventure stories' it is assumed that they will not miss them. It is assumed that it does not matter that they are missing out on the adult equivalent of the detective story. (The detective story is top of the borrowing choices in our local library and, I suspect, elsewhere.) If, the argument goes, a child is going to read then they should be reading something 'useful', something that is going to teach or give them an issue to think about.
For me, having amassed a considerable collection of children's literature from the 1950's on the exciting thing is to have a child borrow a book from me and then come flying through the door at great speed saying , "Are there any more like this?" Are they learning anything from a straightforward story without didactic or moral undertones? Yes. They are learning to love reading. They are choosing to read.


Redleg said...

The most disturbing aspect of parents choosing their kid's books is when it veers into censorship - i.e. great groups of mothers burning Harry Potter or school libraries having to ban Huck Finn. (Not that I find either of those to have excessive literary merit, but they're the examples that spring most readily to mind.) Of course the nice thing about censorship is that it adds a tantalizing taste of the taboo to the banned book, and makes the kids go out of their way to read it anyway.

virtualquilter said...

Give a child who doesn't want to read anything which might whet their appetite for books. Some kids start to read when they want to know what is in the balloons above their favourite characters head in comics, some start by reading instruction manuals for a new game or Dad's new car.
Doesn't matter what they read, just let them read! When they become grown ups they just might be ready to tackle War and Peace.
Judy B

catdownunder said...

But I haven't read War and Peace Judy! What does this say about me?