This post, as I begin it, is an instant “Save Draft,” since it will take a lot of unpicking. Even as I write I see the CLIP Carnegie Kate Greenaway list is out with Tidy, Wolves of Currumpaw and Wild Animals of the North in there. Popularity, pleasure, professional judgement come together. Complex stuff.
Do I read because something is popular?
Not always, but sometimes I have to, if only to keep up to date with other people’s ideas or trends in production. A Hello Kitty version of Red Riding Hood recently stands out as a low point. I persevered with Harry Potter because I thought I should, and was glad I did.
Do I read children’s books for pleasure?
For my own pleasure, as well as the pleasure of sharing? I get pleasure from the innocence – whether knowing or otherwise on the author’s part – which I can see even if I don’t really participate in it. Granted , as Hollindale so gnomically says “ours is the age of Lord of the Flies,” where even the bear-protagonist of Jon Klassen is vengeful and murderous, there is in much children’s literature a lightness that is engaging.
I like the simplicity, whether (again) knowing or unknowing. The foxy-looking gentleman leading Jemima Puddleduck astray; the bromance (an anachronistic term) of Esca and Marcus Flavius Aquila; the inversion of roles in the Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig: they are tricksy, or challenging, funny and poignant but simple in the storytelling in some way I haven’t yet teased out, somehow. I know I am in danger here of seeming as if I like the descent into liking the easy read, and I will only protest (using Julien Benda’s phrase (revisited by Hollindale) Le Trahison Des Clercs, the way that intellectuals do not stay true to their “calling”) that it is the subtlety and playfulness of the design and language that I find attractive, not the easiness. There’s so much more to say on this, but this will do for now.
I get pleasure from good design, from inventive use of colour, interesting cadences in prose, from irony and jokiness. I get pleasure – and did as a child – at the knowing wink towards the world of the adult in the Moomins (I like it less in Dahl). I suppose I get pleasure in the play of ideas: it’s a bit like reading poetry, where rhythm and cadence and imagery and word choice and the appreciation of all of them together makes for the biggest part of my pleasure in reading. Look at these lines from R S Thomas for example:
What is the Christmas without
snow? We need it
as bread of a cold
climate, ermine to trim
our sins with, a brief
sleeve for charity’s
scarecrow to wear its heart
on, bold as a robin.
My pleasure comes from appreciation of the shared experiences, but also from the way the words are placed, with care and attention, the slipperiness of simile and metaphor, of sacrament and observation.
And I get pleasure from the debate I have with colleagues about something we delight in together. Children’s literature is one of the reasons I came to Brookes, with my original work title of “Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies, Communication, Language and Literacy. ” It is a joy to find that discussion still alive in the last years of my work.
Professional Judgment comes in somewhere?
Because of my job and my chosen area of research (now here’s a circular argument bowling down the hill of criticism!) , yes.
I can cite two voices in announcing the prize lists today :
There are journeys to be made, friendships to discover, characters to fall in love with and worlds to truly immerse oneself in.
Questions of identity, friendship and responsibility, both to others and to the natural world, are key themes this year. It is also hugely heartening to see our shortlisted writers and illustrators tackling potentially difficult and big ideas…
And I like those descriptions of the values that professionals see in books. I’d like my students to appreciate these views.