Children’s Fiction: My Pet Hate

Literature is a form of escapism for most of us. We reach for a novel and instantly forget those pending bills, those emails we need to send and what’s on the agenda for tomorrow. Children are no different. They might not have the same worries as us but they have problems none the less. Children use literature to escape from reality just as we do, which perhaps is the reason fantasy is such a popular genre when it comes to little readers. Who wants to be thinking about tomorrow’s maths class when they could be knee deep in snow in Narnia or on adventures with their daemons? The books of C. S. Lewis and Philip Pullman have to be some of the greatest kids books around; their creativity is unparalleled.

The lack of creativity is my problem with writers like Jacqueline Wilson. I hated her books as a child and nothing’s changed since. Jacqueline Wilson wrote books about school, bullying and eating disorders. These were aspects of my life that I wanted to escape, I did not want to spend hours face to face with them on the page. I already spent 8 hours a day in school, why would I want to read about school? However, I had very little choice. A Secondary School library is FULL of these types of books because writers of children’s fiction like to include things a child can relate to, which (and I’ll give them this) only really leaves them with school because at the age of 13 you haven’t experienced anything else.

I remember reading one Jacqueline Wilson book (I’ve googled it and found its name to be Girls Under Pressure) where the protagonist mentioned her dislike of her fat nose every few pages. I’d never considered before that the facial features you were born with could be considered ugly, I just thought my face was my face. This book taught me to judge my own appearance – and what worse message can you send a pre-teen? To start body shaming yourself at such a young age (or at any age in fact) is a dangerous thing to mess around with. Then there was the binge eating and purging involved with one of the character’s bulimia. This was something I’d never come into contact with before and to this day I believe it’s something that should be discussed in a science class and not in children’s literature. The problem with fiction is that it doesn’t often address problems neutrally or factually. By convention fiction is a matter of interpretation; these stories can plant ideas in children’s heads that are perhaps not what the author intended.

Girls Under Pressure

I think it’s far safer, and far more entertaining, to stick with the abstract – to explore the incredible world of fantasy and magic, even if it is rooted in a realistic setting like J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. These combine school with magic in such a way that, for me at least, they are still included in the category of escapist literature. I can open a Harry Potter book and be transported to the corridors of Hogwarts that in no way resemble my old school halls and yet I still get it. I can still relate to the characters and their dramas but the portrayal of them is creative. I can only conclude by saying that children are some of the most creative among us and therefore inherently going to enjoy creativity in their books.

Hogwarts

What do you think? Did you prefer fantasy or realist literature as a child? And in hindsight, did you ever read anything that wasn’t totally appropriate to your age? Are there any subjects that just shouldn’t be included in children’s books at all? Post your comments down below!

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12 thoughts on “Children’s Fiction: My Pet Hate

  1. I’m firmly in the fantasy camp. There is nothing new about kids having problems at home, or school. What is new is having all the adults and lit around constantly reminding them of those problems. If you want kids to read for fun it has to be entertaining and imaginative. The books that kids have picked up for ages- Narnia, LOTR, Harry Potter, etc all are good, fun, fantasy stories.

  2. When I was a kid, I loved reading Goosebumps books. The macabre attracted me at a young age, and those books scared and thrilled in equal measure. There’s something about being attracted to fear that continues to fascinate even after so many years.

    • You’re right and that’s an interesting idea. I’ve just finished writing a dissertation about the fairy tales written by Charles Perrault (before the Grimms tamed them) and they’re pretty terrifying and thrilling because of it. Thanks for your comment, I hadn’t thought about the attraction of darkness.

  3. I enjoyed Enyd Blyton’s “The famous five” in which the young characters were people you could equate with but who had adventures that were a total flight of fantasy. They faced danger and had adventures that none of us would have in real life. So they offered just the right level of escapism. I could also mention the “Hardy Boys” who were an American equivalent as it were of budding young detectives taking on the grown ups and usurping them of their dastardly misdeeds!

  4. As a kid, I read a ton. I liked reading about animals (especially horses) … and I liked fantasy, too, to some extent (C.S. Lewis was always one of my favorite authors), but I also liked reading about normal kids who did normal stuff that even I could do. I’m homeschooled, so I think the world of kids going to “real school” fascinated me. I think my favorite author was Beverly Cleary … I didn’t realize at the time that she was writing about kids in the 1950s … I figured it was that awesome now. 😉

  5. I am glad someone else had the same feeling as well. I never really related to all the YA plotlines of body issues, drugs etc because I never even knew they were problems, I was pretty sheltered. I read alot less in my teen years because of it.

    But I think authors should continue writing about these stories as well, along with YA fiction set in fantasy, or dystopian futures (e.g. Hunger Games) because there are some kids who do relate to these topics and therefore can feel understood. Reading is a form of escapism, but it’s also a way for us to understand and empathise with people and situation we will never be a part of. Also kids will find out about these issues anyway, and instead of censoring them, we should educate them appropriately on the matters.

  6. As a child and even still now as an adult reading to my children I love Roald Dahl books for the funny and completely fictional yet somehow believable plots. I also liked Enid Blyton books and as a young teenager I enjoyed Judy Blume books. I avoided most stories where the character and plotline revolved around school especially those where they were bullied. I was shocked at the paragraph you took a picture of regarding an eating disorder as a parent I am saddened to see this in a children’s book and I truly hope the author addressed the issue well and sent a positive message to the reader about seeking help and support. A friend read a story to her daughter last Christmas (age 6) which suggested Santa didn’t exist again as a parent I wouldn’t want this in a young children’s book as it is up to the parent how to explain about Santa.

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