Saturday, 9 June 2012

Watching the brief report of

the wonderful spectacle of the flotilla of boats going down the Thames (our news services gave very poor coverage of this) I was reminded of a book. This was because, apart from the Royal vessel almost the only thing we saw were the Maori warriors and some of the tiny boats that made the journey to Dunkirk.
It was those tiny boats that reminded me of a book that nearly did not go into school libraries here. It was considered, at the time, to be "too controversial".
The book was "The Dolphin Crossing" by Jill Paton Walsh. I also remember the book being criticised by other authors. The subject matter was considered unsuitable. The author had not experienced it herself. Children should not be exposed to "that sort of thing".
It all seems faintly ridiculous now. There are other books which confront similar topics. There are books which confront other highly controversial topics.
At the time though I can remember that individual schools had to decide whether to allow the book into their school libraries. The headmaster left the decision up to me. I talked to the mothers...after all, they met in the library once a month and there was a meeting that week. I told them I had read the book. I told them what it was about.
One mother asked me, "Do you consider it to be well written?"
I told her I thought it was. That was enough for those mothers. Nobody argued. We agreed that anyone who did not want their child to read the book should let me know. Nobody did.
The book is set in World War II.  It is largely about two boys from differing backgrounds who come together and, through their own efforts, set up accommodation for the one who is the evacuee. That is not the controversial part of the book however. The controversial part begins when the two boys, one an experienced sailor and the other who has never seen the sea until his evacuation, set out across the Channel to Dunkirk.  This appalled some adults. Why would any author allow boys to do something so dangerous? Why was she allowed to describe the horrors of Dunkirk, the horrors of seeing a ship blown up? Even worse the final journey is made by the evacuee alone. We are left not knowing whether he is safe or not. That was considered an appalling and entirely unsatisfactory ending.
The odd thing is that I remember the book. I also remember "The Silver Sword" (Ian Serraillier) and "The Snow Goose" (Paul Gallico). I remember others too. I have had young borrowers weep over them.
There have been other books about World War II and other wars which have been written since then. Some of them are as graphic, perhaps more graphic, than "The Dolphin Crossing". Some of them have not even raised an eyebrow.  I have a nasty feeling that children have been immunised to some extent against violence. They see too much of it on television. They play too many computer games where people and animals get "zapped". It does not seem real to them. That is wrong.
I watched those tiny boats going down the Thames though. I watched and I remembered the book. I also wondered how many other people remembered the book. Do you?

1 comment:

Paul England said...

We remember The Dolphin Crossing! The world premiere is playing Bristol, UK - until 28th July 2012.