So if you haven't already read that one, take a quick look at it. I found it very thought-provoking, but I think it somehow got lost in all the kerfuffle of New Year's Eve, which is rather a shame. I was going to reply to it in January, but then I broke my wrist and decided to write about that, instead.
The wrist's coming along nicely, by the way; and I've got this very fetching purple cast now instead of the grubby white one.
Anyway: what issue is it that I want to take? Well, it's this: Sally tells us that Lindgren believed "children's writing should be aimed directly at the people it's for - the children - and that anything aimed at anyone else should be deleted" [my bold]. And I'm just not sure I believe that.
Yes, you can go too far in the other direction. It's possible to bung in so many knowing winks in the direction of adults that the children, the intended audience, end up being left out. But if you do that, it's likely that children will just give up on the book and go and do something else instead.
On the other hand, it's also quite possible to successfully use references that none of your intended readers is likely to get. At least, I hope it is; because I've done my best to do so - notably in my third book, Jack Slater, Monster Investigator. There's one running reference, in fact, which I sincerely hope will go right over the heads of the children who read the book; because it's a reference to Dirty Harry, and - call me old-fashioned if you like - I just don't think that's a suitable film for children.
So why reference it in a children's book? Well, let me give you a few reasons:
- because it amused me; and I believe that a writer has a duty to him- or herself as well as to the reader. I think that if I'm not enjoying what I'm writing, the reader is unlikely to
- because, actually, sometimes I like to think that I write family books rather than children's books. I enjoy the idea of parents and children sharing them; and just as a good family film may have bits that some members of the family won't get, that's okay for family books, too. As long as the whole is accessible to everyone, it doesn't matter if some of us don't get bits. You can completely miss a line of dialogue but still understand the scene
- most importantly - because it worked. I'd begun to picture Cherry - whom both Jack and the reader were about to meet for the first time - as feisty and fearless. She was going to rescue him from a monster after his weapon - his penlight torch - had been broken in a scuffle. I wanted the rescue to have an edge of mystery and drama...
So... actually, even though the reference wasn't aimed at the children I see as my primary audience - I suppose I was thinking about them. I was wondering how best to introduce Cherry to them, and keep the story moving; and when I came up with my Dirty Harry reference, it really didn't matter if they got it or not. "Getting it" might add an extra layer of enjoyment for the parents, but the reference was there to move the story along. I hope it did that, and did it well.
Maybe, in the end, that's the only good reason for adding any reference to anything into a story - to make the story better. If it does that, maybe it doesn't really matter whether the reader gets it or not. The one who does has the fun of a secret shared; the one who doesn't just gets on and enjoys the story.
And maybe, in that, I'm not as far from Astrid Lindgren's position as I thought.
John's website is at www.visitingauthor.com. His latest book is Jack Slater and the Whisper of Doom.