I think hope is a necessary ingredient of a children’s book. It’s a personal opinion, not shared by everyone.
My own taste in reading runs to happy endings. There are enough miserable things going on in real life, as far as I’m concerned, for me to look for more between the covers of a book. I like to know that however bad things get during a story, and it’s fine if they are very bad in the middle, and you can’t see a way out, they are all going to turn out all right in the end. That’s why I love reading children’s books and why I love writing them. Because it can be seen as soft or unrealistic to have happy endings in adult books. But you can get away with it for kids. Everything can be wonderfully happily resolved without your readers muttering ‘unconvincing’.
But my feeling is that children’s books are getting darker and darker and I’m no longer feeling secure when I launch myself into a new book. The cover and the blurb certainly don't always warn you. It reminds me of why I stopped reading adult books – because you don’t quite know what sort of horrors lurk between the pages and how much it’s going to haunt you afterwards.
When I studied holocaust literature at university, many moons ago, I read a piece by Jean Amery describing the after-effects of torture. He says it takes away your trust in the world, utterly and completely, and it can never be restored. There is no security ever again.
I sometimes feel concerned that reading really bleak books where everything ends miserably is (on a very tiny scale, of course) a bit like torture. You’ve been shown and drawn into a vision of unbearable misery, you’ve been haunted by dark happenings. They can stay with you. I myself have a number of images from children’s books I’ve read over the past couple of years that haunt my conscious mind with things I would infinitely prefer not to have there.
And yet we expose our kids happily to such books. We give them prizes that never seem to go to happy books, funny books, and books for little children. They become best-sellers and get put on reading lists as a result.
I know I’m over-sensitive. But I can’t help wondering if we need to give our children more security in an increasingly violent world, and not expose them to some of the very worst of human nature in their reading. I'm sure many, many people will disagree with this. But rightly or wrongly, it's what I feel.