Individual children change, of course. They grow up, and much too quickly for my liking. And childhood changes, because it’s a cultural construct and our culture is ever-changing; and also because some childhoods are filled with more horrid plastic toys than others.
But what a child actually is - that doesn’t change. A twenty-first century baby is no different from a Tudor baby, or a Viking baby, or a stone-age baby; and a modern child has the same needs for love and nurture as any of its historical counterparts. I’m therefore deeply suspicious when anyone working in the field of children’s books talks about ‘the modern child’ or ‘our readers’ as if they’re substantially different from the children the industry was serving ten, or twenty, or a hundred years ago.
My daughter has recently become something of a Beano addict, so for Christmas - among other things - we gave her a big pile of Beano back-issues. She loved them. It became at times impossible to have a conversation with her that wasn’t preceded by “Put that Beano down!”
The interesting thing about this is that they weren’t new Beanos. They were 35 years old or so - copies I’d saved from my own childhood, and which had recently emerged from the back of a dark cupboard. And while she loves the old Dennis the Menace and Minnie the Minx strips just as much as the current ones, her all-time favourite Beano feature is Tom, Dick and Sally.
For those of you unfamiliar with the strip, Sally is the youngest of the three siblings, forever put down and put upon by her big brothers. They play tricks on her, offload their chores onto her, and generally do her down… but of course it’s Sally who wins out in the end, and often because the boys are hoist with their own petard. Hmmm… I shall have to ask my son if he has any idea why his younger sister relates so strongly to this.
Anyway, the point is that this is a story that was phased out of The Beano some time in the 1980s. But it’s just as relevant to today’s children because it deals with something that’s a childhood constant, regardless of cultural shifts.
And don’t the best stories?
John's website is at www.visitingauthor.com.
He's on twitter as @JohnDougherty8.
His latest books include:
Finn MacCool and the Giant's Causeway - a retelling for the Oxford Reading Tree
Bansi O'Hara and the Edges of Hallowe'en
Zeus Sorts It Out - "A sizzling comedy... a blast for 7+" , and one of The Times' Children's Books of 2011, as chosen by Amanda Craig