Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Is there any such thing as a traditional family

in the pages of children's literature? Of course there is - but I am hard put to think of a recently published book which has Dad in steady employment, Mum is at home looking after the kids (or, at most, employed part-time), and the kids are not in trouble because of an issue like drugs or sex or alcohol or some other 'nasty' in the 'realistic' books. Even the fantasy stuff seems to have turned really nasty lately. Yes, of course you need tension or there is no story. And yes, I do need to head back to the library shelves and do a bit more searching. All the same it is depressing.
There has to be a good reason to do the non-traditional thing. I do not want to give a child two mothers rather than a mother and a father simply because it is a 'modern issue' that a child needs to be 'confronted' by. The kids who are in that position already have their own issues with the situation - one way or another. If it is relevant to the story that is a different matter. What is the point of giving a character parents in a lesbian relationship unless it is part of the story? Including it merely because it is a 'social issue' is not, in my view, acceptable. The same goes for sexual abuse, drugs, racism and other social issues. If they are not relevant to the story then why should they get included?
"But these things are what sell books!" I was told yesterday, "Family stuff is old fashioned. You can't hope to get anything published if you don't write about these things. It's the sort of thing that kids need to know about."
What do children 'need to know' about? What is the point of a children's book? Is it to educate or to entertain? Can it be both? Who decides and why should reading for pleasure in childhood be treated any differently from reading for pleasure in adulthood? Is it really the case that children have so little time to read that they should not 'waste' it on books that entertain but do not educate about social issues?
Are families really old fashioned?


Amanda Acton said...

I've always used books as a way to escape. Throwing in "real world" issues because "the children need to know" would ruin it for me.

I'm with you on that. If its relevant to the story, by all means, but if you're just doing it because its an "issue" then no. Please stop.

... this is possibly why I've always migrated to the fantasy side of the book stores.

catdownunder said...

Ah...interesting Amanda - so the fantasy side does not have this for you?

Amanda Acton said...

Less so. The biggest family issue, your hero is an orphan! The old school way of avoiding those lesbian parents, is not to have them at all, ;)

I think the fantasy books, in general, get to focus more on the action though, and less on the nitty gritty of everyday...

I think. :P