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.
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.
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!