Saturday, 4 April 2015

Wonder or Despair: What Are We Giving our Kids to Think About? - David Thorpe

This week I was doing an event at our local library, in Ammanford, Carmarthenshire, which has just undergone a very nice refit and upgrade. It's always great to see libraries being renovated and improved rather than closed, which happens all too often these days.

For my event I was put in the section containing racks of books for older children and young adults and graphic novels. Casting my eye across them, and having read quite a few, I was struck by the overwhelming mood of many of them: dystopic and preoccupied with doom, gloom, death, hate, angst.

I suddenly felt sorry for children if that was the entirety of their choice of reading matter.

Of course, I am guilty of writing books that probably fall into this category as well, but I suppose what depressed me was seeing that this type of book is mostly what either the librarians or publishers in general think the kids want to read.

Well, maybe they do. But one book stood out amongst all the others as being exceptionally different. I know, because I've read it and it's by one of my favourite – and the country's most celebrated – authors.

It is a book of wonder, that celebrates creativity, being different, and the splendours of the natural world.

It does not follow any particular page-turning plot structure. Nor does it correspond to any particular genre, although I suppose you could call it in the end fantasy or magical realism, but really it's about imagination.

(The author is on record as saying: "When people began to describe me as a magic realist I thought - I'm just me.")

David Almond's My Name is Mina is about a girl who doesn't fit in, who finds that the constrictive pressures of the school system are too much for her huge personality.

It celebrates learning at your own pace, following your instinct, writing, a love of words and language, finding the marvellous in the everyday, and so on.

Above: a page from the book.

At the same time you can feel the anger that Almond has towards the school system and teachers caught within it. No doubt he is drawing upon his own experience of being a teacher for five years.

I should say that any child reading this, who feels a little bit different, will sense validation for their unique perspective on life.

And anyone else, who was ever looked at a bird, or the sky, or a leaf on a tree and just wondered how it came into being, will also find validation for their purposeless gaze.

I have put passages in my books a bit like this, but I have not ever considered writing a whole book like this. It was a revelation to read.

This is not a book that trades upon the existence of a sense of desperation for its page turning qualities. Although it is in part a kind of an us-versus-them story, Mina's reactions to adversity, particularly from her teacher, are always gentle and loving.

The book shows readers another way to be, and that is to its immense credit. It's a book that takes its time even though it is short.

It's interspersed with lots of exercises, called experiments, for children to try, almost like a self-help book.

It takes courage to go against the grain and write a book like this. Too many writers think that they just have to follow the herd or go with publishing trends. It's your own vision that's the most important and that will last beyond such trends.

David Thorpe is the author of clifi YA fantasy Stormteller and the SF dystopia Hybrids.


Sue Purkiss said...

Encouraging! About dystopias - I don't usually read them. But two, both trilogies, have been recommended to me recently. In both cases, I read the first book and was very impressed - taut story-telling, amazing world-building, etc. But in each case, as I started the second book, I found I was unwilling to step back into such a depressing world - not just depressing by its nature, but also because the characters that survive need to have characteristics that in this life are not necessarily ones I feel drawn to. Mind you, it does make you appreciate what we've got here and now, and be more conscious of wanting to look after it!

Nick Green said...

The only books I find depressing are those written in cackhanded prose with paper characters. Cormac McCarthy's The Road is as bleak as they come, but utterly uplifting because every line is pure poetry.

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CUCI SOFA said...

I read the first book and was very impressed. Nice Share


Nice share, I'll be back again to read ur next post ^^