Thursday, 17 April 2014

The best bums in children’s fiction – or, why so many kid’s books about bottoms? – Emma Barnes

A favourite bottom book!

And another!
I’ve jumped onto the bottom bandwagon!

I didn’t meant to. I didn’t consciously set out to write a book featuring bottoms. It was only when Penny Dolan wrote that Wild Thing was “much more than a book that gets 8 year-old children laughing because they enjoy reading about rude words” that I realized what I’d done. I, too, had written a book featuring children's fascination with their nether regions.

 It’s not exactly an untapped theme in children’s literature. (In modern times, anyway – you won’t find Jo March, Anne of Green Gables or even Just William having much to say about posteriors.) But whether it’s Nicholas Allen’s delightful Cinderella’s Bum or the famously scatological The Little Mole Who Thought It Was None Of His Business, there’s a whole branch of kids’ books about rear ends and what comes out of them. In fact when I (rather bravely) did some googling, I was stunned to find out just how many titles there were.

I suppose the whole bottom thing can be seen as a cynical ploy. If you want to get children laughing, then “rude words” as Penny implies, are a good way to do it. This wasn’t really on my mind, though. The truth is, having spent the last several years in close contact with young children, I’ve been forcibly reminded how fascinating all things bum and poo –related are to them. I’ve walked behind four year olds whose only obsession is with spotting possible dog poo – and not to avoid standing in it, but out of pure fascination with the subject. “No, that’s only a dead leaf,” I’ve said wearily, more times than I can  remember.

So it’s not surprising the theme cropped up in Wild Thing, which is at heart a realistic, family story. The subject first arises when an inadvertent slip of the tongue by Gran allows five year old Wild Thing to get going on a favourite subject.

“Gran said bottom!” 
“No, she didn’t.” 
“Yes, she did.” Wild Thing grinned. “A butt is a bottom.You’ve got a big butt!” She pointed at me. “And Gran’s got a wrinkly one!” 
Then she danced off across the garden, shouting, “BUTT! BEHIND! BOTTOM! BUM!” at the top of her voice. She almost crashed into a tree. 

Wild Thing waggles her bum (Jamie Littler illustrator)

The incident leads to a wild chase and the invention of the Bite the Bottom game – yet another source of daily embarrassment for poor older sister Kate! When I’ve read the passage aloud in schools, the effect has been electrifying. On the occasion where I had a staff member “signing” the bottom-biting scene (and giving a fine theatrical performance of the bottom-chomping incident) I thought everyone was going to be reduced to a dangerous level of hysteria.

It’s true, folks. Rude bits really do make them laugh.
In school...the arrow fittingly pointing at a certain place!

Grown-ups can be a bit sniffy, I suppose, and feel that the whole bottom thing is crude, overdone, and playing to the crowd. But then children feel much the same about adult interests. Remember The Princess Bride and the little boy recoiling from the sloppy bits – “Yuk kissing!” Anyone who has watched TV with a child will recognize that response. (It’s also beautifully captured in Judith Viorst’s classic picture book, Alexander’s Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day – where the kissing on TV is almost as bad as the lima beans for dinner.)

So let’s allow children their interests, just as adults are allowed theirs. After all, for the average five year old, toilet training and bed wetting are still very immediate issues, and getting oneself to the toilet on time can be a source of pride (or sometimes an embarrassing failure). Adults take all this for granted – although actually, of course, many adults, especially in later life, don’t. Sadly, it often becomes a source of shame and embarrassment again, with many incontinent adults suffering in silence. So if children can openly laugh and celebrate all things rear-end, then let’s embrace that! Humour, as a recent ABBA poster pointed out, is also a way of dealing with things that trouble us.

So Bottoms Up, folks! And why not nominate your own favourite rude title?

Emma's new book, Wild Thing,  about the naughtiest little sister ever (and her bottom-biting ways), is out now from Scholastic. It is the first of a series for readers 8+.
"Hilarious and heart-warming" The Scotsman
"Charming modern version of My Naughty Little Sister" Armadillo Mag

 Wolfie is published by Strident.   Sometimes a Girl’s Best Friend is…a Wolf. 
"A real cracker of a book" Armadillo 
"Funny, clever and satisfying...thoroughly recommended" Books for Keeps
"This delightful story is an ideal mix of love and loyalty, stirred together with a little magic and fantasy" Carousel 

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Stroppy Author said...

A good defence of bottoms, Emma! I must say, I decided the time had come to leave one particular agent when she suggested I write about bottoms to pander to the boys-like-bottoms market. Not because I specifically disapprove, but because it's not how I want to spend my time. Wild Thing is an established character, though with other interests. Your point about toileting being an important part of a young child's life is a very good one.

Penny Dolan said...

I'd like to point out that though Wild Thing does include both "bum" and the Bottom Biting Game, it's the ups and downs of all the family relationships that, imo, make this such a great book for kids.

Emma Barnes said...

Ha! Stroppy, I'm sure if anyone had actually suggested that I deliberately write about bottoms I'd have said a firm "no"! I guess the bottom thing has to follow on naturally...well, duh!