Wednesday, 11 May 2011
Creating Pisstory Meg Harper
There used to be a beautiful garden on the corner of our road. Not the sort of cottagey, lush, chaotic garden I’d rather like myself but a traditional, rather formal combination of greensward and floribunda roses with a few tastefully placed specimen shrubs. There was also a gleaming penny farthing as a feature, incongruous but appealing, always delicately outlined with tiny fairy lights at Christmas.
The creator moved away last year and yesterday the new occupants committed an act of dire destruction. Diggers arrived and the entire garden had gone by 11am. Perhaps the owners are going to create something wonderful themselves. Judging by the number of huge white delivery sacks sagging in the wreckage, however, I suspect that they want something low maintenance – a parking lot, for example.
Far be it from me to decry progress or personal freedom of choice. The new owners clearly need something other than a formal garden and fair enough; it is their property. Nonetheless, I wept over the glorious rose bushes which I hope have at least reached the municipal composter and I find myself asking questions about our responsibility to the community in our public acts. That garden gave me great joy and I used to tell the creator so when he was out there tending it. He still lives locally so he will have the pain of seeing that his work has been destroyed. How much should we reign in our personal desires out of consideration for others? A big question. How much value should we put on that which already exists when it stands in the way of something new? It’s a question which town planners and developers constantly battle with and which Capability Brown and his sponsors didn’t seem to consider at all!
What has all this to do with children’s books?!
The other day I did one of my occasional reccies in Waterstones. What’s being promoted, what’s new, what haven’t I read that I should have etc etc. To be honest, I was appalled. There was nothing like the wide selection carried by my local independent. That’s normal but this time the range was even narrower than usual and the blocks of books by the usual suspects were vast. More shocking, in my opinion, was the increased shelf-space given over to the Snot and Bogey brigade. The desperation to publish books that boys will read is getting alarming. Humour revolves around poo and flatulence (we now have the adventures of a farting dog, for goodness sake!) and history is degenerating into pisstory. I’ve recently had a short fictionalised biography of Elizabeth 1st published. ('Elizabeth 1st - The Story of the Last Tudor Queen') Imagine my delight at my most recent school visit when I was approached by a child who wanted to ask a question about it. And the question? Was it true that Elizabeth 1st had used the first toilet ever? Elizabeth 1st must be one of the most formidable personalities our national history offers – and a child’s interest has somehow been reduced to where she went to the loo!
It seems to me that what happened to my neighbour’s garden is happening to children’s literature. In pursuing current agendas (getting boys to read at any cost, for example) we’re trashing a great tradition. I think of the heritage that lies behind the early readers that are being churned out now and I’m asking questions. I’m a left-wing, liberal, armchair revolutionary but I’m also a Christian (albeit a heretical one!) and I’m thinking about what it says in Philippians 4: 8 ...’whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.’ It seems to me that instead we’re asking our children to think about poo. We are replacing what has traditionally been seen as worthy content of children’s books by something far inferior. The same goes for what seems to be happening in my neighbour’s garden.