Thursday, 19 June 2014

'Pernicious' Fairytales and Shame-Inducing YA - Lucy Coats

Children's books have spawned an excess of silliness in the media lately. First of all there was Ruth Graham's article on Slate, which told its readers, in no uncertain terms that:
 "Adults should be ashamed of reading literature written for children". 
Oh dear. That's me with my knuckles rapped, then.

The same day, the perennially anti-escapism Richard Dawkins weighed in with his opinions on fantasy and fairytales, saying 
"I think it's rather pernicious to inculcate into a child a view of the world which includes supernaturalism".
Now I took issue with Professor Dawkins (aka 'The Frog') on this very subject back in 2008, with a piece called 'Long Live the Fairytale', and I still stand by the words I wrote. 

To be honest, I'm just a bit fed up with having to get up and shout against this sort of thing, so I'm not going to go into a long and involved rant here. Luckily for me, there are many other people who can do that far better and more articulately - Non Pratt (on reading YA) last week, and Philip Pullman (on Fairytales) back in 2011 - to name just two.

From a personal point of view, I am what might be called an omnivorous reader. Last week it was Jennifer Worth's accounts of midwifery in 1950's London, before that Jung Chang's fascinating biography of the Dowager Empress Cixi, as well as some excellent UKYA by Tanya Landman and Claire McFall - one a historical novel about the American Civil War and the other an almost literally heart-stopping thriller. I read letters, I read diaries (because I'm damned nosy). I read literary novels, I read crap detective stories. I read erotica and travel, politics, the classics and deep, dusty tomes on mythology, ancient religions and shamanism, picture books, chapter books and middle-grade fiction. Even the backs of cereal packets if I'm really desperate (I recommend Rude Health ones).

I write all sorts of different stuff too - from very young picture books about grubby pirates and tree-snipping bears through retellings of old myth and folklore to novels about fairy folk, dragons and ancient queens.

The point I'm trying to make here is that I'm not ashamed of any of it. Not the reading, not the writing - and why the hell would anyone think they have the right to tell me I should be? I LIKE reading YA. It gives me a different sort of reading pleasure to, say, Austen or Tolstoy or Zadie Smith or Donna Tartt or Malcolm Gladwell - but I happen to think that's ok.

Same goes for the writing. I LIKE making weird and fantastical stories up for kids of all ages (including ones about fairies and gods). From the fan-mail I get, and the interactions I have with kids in the schools I visit, I think my readers appreciate it too. In my opinion, fairytales and fantasy feed the mind, they don't corrupt it, and I still don't think Mr Dawkins gives children enough credit for intelligence. What I said back in 2008 is as relevant to me today as it was then, so I'll leave you with this thought:

"A child’s mind is absolutely capable of containing many ‘once upon a times’ and evidential scientific formulae all at the same time—and what’s more, distinguishing entirely successfully between the two without any harmful effects whatsoever.

Stick that where the sun don't shine, Professor. Thanks all the same, but I'd rather listen to Einstein.

Lucy's new picture book, Captain Beastlie's Pirate Party is now out from Nosy Crow!
"A rollicking story and a quite gloriously disgusting book that children (especially boys) will adore!" Parents In Touch magazine
"A splendidly riotous romp…Miss the Captain’s party at your peril." Jill Bennett
"An early candidate for piratey book of the year!" ReadItDaddy blog
"A star of a book." Child-Led Chaos blog
Atticus the Storyteller's 100 Greek Myths is available from Orion Children's Books.
"A splendid reminder of the wonder of the oldest of stories…should be in every home and classroom" The Bookseller
Lucy's brand-new and sparkly Website

Lucy is represented by Sophie Hicks at The Sophie Hicks Agency


Penny Dolan said...

Well said, Lucy!

Emma Barnes said...

There are plenty of things for adults to be ashamed of...reading fairy tales is not one of them!

Deirdra said...

Hi I'm looking for your contact info for a book review/post?
Can you email me at EdenLiterary at gmail dot com

michelle lovric said...

"Shame" and "reading" should not be in the same sentence.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Absolutely right, Lucy! Read wat you want - I'm a reading omnivore too. Ignore this Dawkins fellow, who not only tells us what we can read, but what we should believe! Too full of himself, in my opinion. If fairy tales and fantasy were good enough for Tolkien, they're good enough for us - and I know which Professor I prefer! ;-)

catdownunder said...

Could not agree more - and it needs to be said loudly and often.

Sue Purkiss said...

Great post, Lucy!