Sunday, 14 March 2010

Favourite heroes?

Elsewhere in the blogging world Lucy Coats has been asking for people to name ten of the best heroes in children's fiction - five female and five male. This was in response to her own reaction to a list apparently put up by the Guardian in the UK.
It set me thinking about - and I still cannot quite work it out - why I like what I like.
There is Maria Merryweather in Elizabeth Goudge's book "The little white horse" for instance. I would have no desire to be Maria but she is an admirable girl, both courageous and loyal. There is however much more to her than that. Social justice matters to Maria. Maria also manipulates. She is a very complex character. As a Carnegie Medal winner the book is still well known, as it should be.
There is also Kit Haverard whom we first meet in "The Lark in the Morn". The sequel, "The Lark on the Wing" also won a Carnegie Medal. Kit is another complex character. She has a lot of growing up to do. She needs, but does not have, a mother. At the same time it is not having a mother which makes her what she is. She is uncertain but determined. Her music does not come easily but it is all the better for it.
Cynthia Harnett won the Carnegie Medal for "The Woolpack" but Nicholas does not have the same depth of character. I think I prefer Bendy in her "The Load of Unicorn". Ivan Southall's "Josh" has more depth but it is an introspective book that does not appeal to many children. His "Let the Balloon Go" is probably a better book for children and there is as much to John as there is to Josh. Ivan once said he found both books equally difficult to write.
But there are other books that have not won medals and yet they have remarkable characters. One of my favourites is "Pauline" by Margaret Storey. Pauline has to be one of the best drawn characters in children's literature. She is scholarship material but even at the end of the book you are left wondering whether she will get the education she clearly needs and deserves. Another is M L'Engle's Vicky, especially in "The Moon by Night". Vicky does not quite fit into her family. She is growing up but it is more than just growing up. Like all creative people she will have to learn to live with being slightly apart from the world. KM Peyton's Pennington is even more difficult to live with but he has complexity and depth.

There are, of course, many other characters. I like, Tonino in Diana Wynne Jones' "The Magicians of Caprona" and Sophie in "Howl's Moving Castle". Roald Dahl's Matilda, Joan Aiken's Dido Twite and Felix in "Go saddle the sea" are also not quite ordinary. I like the Callendar family in John Verney's books but they seem to have been lost to modern children's literature.

I was in the local indie bookshop looking for a gift for my goddaughter last week. The assistant, someone I know well, waved her hand at the shelves for younger readers and said, "So much of this is dark and depressing." That may be a clue. It may be why I still like what I liked as a child - that tiny bit of hope for the future.


Rachel Fenton said...

Kids are told about the greenhouse effect and all kinds of depressing stuff before they've been allowed to be kids, it seems to me. They are taught to cope rather than to escape through much literature. Too much literature. Someone bought my baby son a book about whale hunting - save our friends - or something the tag line runs...wouldn't it work better to just have a book about a brilliant wee whale who was clever and loving and happy and free and didn't have a care in the world - wouldn't that make a wee girl or boy care more about them when they're old enough to take on the weight of responsibility for doing something to save them...

off on a tangent again. Sorry.

Do animals count? Would they have to be gendered?

catdownunder said...

Animals should definitely count...I love Ratty and Mole and the Little Grey Rabbit and quite a few others...sigh.