Monday, 9 December 2013

Who reads the paper? - Anne Rooney

Remember in Not Now Bernard, when Bernard's dady won't take any notice of him?
He's reading the newspaper.

Reading the paper is what daddies (and sometimes mummies) do in picture books when they are being grown-up, not engaging with their children, and not wanting to be disturbed. But who reads the paper? How many small children see their parents reading the paper? I wondered about this as I tried to write a page of a picture book in which a daddy does some household chores and then sits down to relax. I don't want him to watch television. (Apart from anything else, he lives on a beach in Mauritius. Oh, and he's a dodo.) But I don't want him doing something alien that will require unpicking by the small reader. Perhaps he'll do some baking. (I know, he lives on a beach in Mauritius...)

Once you start thinking about it, lots of activities that used to be the familiar routine of a small child's life aren't actually that common any more. How many people walk to the shops? How many even GO to the shops? Is there a picture book yet in which the arrival of the Ocado/Tesco delivery man is an awaited event? In which daddy reads The Times app on his iPad after work? In which the Tiger uses all the bandwidth and no-one can look at YouTube or update their status to say 'There's a tiger in the kitchen'?

I wonder if we're in danger of the quotidian humdrummery of mid-twentieth-century life becoming the Hansel-and-Gretel forest of picture-book land? The comfortable home life - Max with his hot drink before bed, Sophie sitting at the kitchen table for tea made on a proper cooker, Bernard whose daddy can (can't, actually) wield a hammer - do they even look like reality any more to most kids? Older siblings in picture books don't sit playing Angry Birds on their phones. Children still go outside to play (with no-one warning them about paedophiles or road-ragers). In the supermarket, they queue at the checkout instead of scanning their own shopping. Babies sleep under quilts and not in grow-bags.

So what should a daddy dodo do when he's finished his chores? Perhaps he will dance. That never goes out of fashion.

Anne Rooney
aka Stroppy Author

16 comments:

catdownunder said...

he might have a coconut to twiddle on his toes, or be lying in a hammock or be plaiting palm leaves for a new sun hat or have a fishing rod out in the water or... it's YOUR story!

Richard said...

I quite like the idea of a dodo playing Angry Birds.

Stroppy Author said...

Richard, if only! But I suspect that representing Angry Birds in a picture book illustration will need the permission of the copyright holders and that might be too much aggro.

Karen said...

He could go surfing ...

Lari Don said...

I've worried about this as well - it makes me feel like a wrinkly old luddite, but I don't want to normalise the tendency to ignore real people in the room while engaging with other people online, but I do want my books to reflect children's real lives. And these two desires do often clash! You address it with a very light touch, Anne, but it is a genuine dilemma. Not for dodos though. I think dodos do dance. Or perhaps they relax by building complicated many-layered sandwiches.

Lucy Coats said...

Um, left field suggestion here... could a dodo relax by reading? Maybe Darwin's Origin of Species!!

ReadItDaddy said...

Love that book so much. If David McKee ever updated it, both Mum and Dad would probably be on their phones instead of reading the newspaper. SO MANY PARENTS are zombies to their smartphones in front of their kids. I think that's a bit sad really.

kathryn evans said...

playing fifa... reading Dan Dodo Brown...on a rowing machine...who am i kidding, no one evr relaxes inthis house, the dad would be working his Dodo butt off trying to pay the bills...

Emma Barnes said...

I struggle most with the fact children don't go out and play by themselves - or go out on their bikes, nip up to the shops to spend their pocket money by themselves etc etc If there are always adults there, it is incredibly hard to construct a "real life" story in which kids have any kind of adventure.

(I'm writing mainly for 7 plus rather than picture books mind you.)

Penny Dolan said...

Myself, I'm wondering if he could be playing Angry Dodos? (Demented dodos?)

But I think you have hit on a serious issue here (Shirley Hughes illustrations appear in my mind) when the activities and interactions involved other children and people like shopkeepers. Staff in supermarkets don't really chat in the same "shopkeeper who knows you way", do they? And the activities in the paid for "ball pool", or the supervised after school club aren't back garden or street games?

Snobbishly, perhaps, I felt shocked when I went into a school staffroom a few years back and found copies of The Sun lying on the coffee table.

Frances Bevan said...

Such an interesting post - certainly got me thinking.

Richard said...

DIY? With or without a huge, half-built catapult in the background.

Farah Mendlesohn said...

I realised this afternoon what the answer is: Daddy is playing on his Xbox of course.

Stace said...

This is an interesting post -- I wondered if other picturebook creators sometimes looked at their work and thought, Isn't this straight out of the 1970s? I included a cathode ray type TV set in a picturebook this year because I didn't want the household to look rich, with a big flat screen, while at the same time knowing that you can't buy anything else these days, and besides, there are better markers of poverty -- most of the poorest people in the world do own cellular phones, for instance.

Regarding newspapers, I noticed a while back that it tends to be fathers in picturebooks reading them, and I've been looking for an example of a mother reading a newspaper while the father goes about the household duties, but I haven't come across an example yet.

Can anyone else think of a mother reading the newspaper in kids' media?

For me, gender divisions from an earlier time are more problematic than the anachronistic nature of newspaper reading (etc) itself.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Yes even in Piggybook by Anthony Browne, I was hoping we might see Mum at the end relaxing with the newspaper but she was mending the car!!! Greta post!

Stroppy Author said...

Stace, gender differences in books published in the past don't bother me. It's important that children know about the past and its unfairnesses. For the same reason, I'd rather they saw that black people were treated badly and the Irish did starve - we should not airbrush the bad things people once did and we have stopped doing, any more than we should avoid difficult questions about the bad things that still happen. It's enough that modern picture books *do* have mum mending the car.