Sunday, 21 May 2017

Politics and Children's Books by Anne Booth

Children’s Books and Politics

My first book - 'Girl with a White Dog'. 

By the time my next blog post comes up we will have another government. And, earlier than the General Election, this will have happened too:

I have bought a ticket for this, and I hope to be able to attend and listen to and maybe join in the discussion, but am not 100% sure as my elderly dad isn’t very well.

The debating questions seem to me to be really well chosen.

‘Should we provide readers with the tools to learn about the world around them, their role as citizens and their right to speak up?  Or should children's fiction be about escapism and entertainment?  How can authors combine the two and what is our responsibility to reflect current events in our fiction?’

The answers to these all involve a basic shared understanding of the term ‘child’ and the unique relationship to, and responsibility for, their reader which a children’s writer has. It has changed over time, something which I loved learning about for my M.A. in Children’s Literature back in 1993-95. In early children’s books, authors for children felt it was their primary responsibility to communicate what they regarded as essential spiritual truths to children, in as effective a way as possible. Pictures and narrative were put at the service of this, and children could be frightened into goodness. As time went on, and our perception of shared spiritual certainties changed, along with the status of the child and the commercial standing of the book, the emphasis became more on entertainment rather than improvement or the saving of a child’s soul, yet at the same time the religious or political biases of any children’s author will always, consciously or unconsciously, effect the story they tell. 

For a really interesting summary read this:

I remember being recommended on the MA course  the book  by Jacqueline Rose  ‘The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction’  - I am sure I read some if not all of it - as I remember being surprised by the complexities of the whole aspect of adults writing for children.

I was amused, when looking up the book for this post, to see the title of this piece

I must re- read the original and get hold of the article commenting on it. 


All I know is that I loved children’s books when I was a child and never stopped loving them - that I read them for entertainment and comfort - and I write them, to a certain extent, for the entertainment and comfort of the child  who is still within me, but I also write them, as an adult, for the children I love - remembering my own, my friend’s children, and also those children I meet. 

I want children in bad situations to be comforted and entertained by my books, to be inspired and enthused. I want to write about things they like -  fairies and friends and dogs and magic snow globes.

And some children do like politics. They are interested in it, as I know from amazing questions I get when I go to schools to talk about ‘Girl with a White Dog’. They ask about immigration, anti-Semitism, and even Donald Trump. So I wasn't surprised by this : 

And as politics does ‘bug’ some children and does affect the children I love - I also want to write about it. I want to help them understand politics and politicians - because what politics is and what politicians do affects their lives and, when they are 18, they will be able to vote and need to know what they are doing.  Politicians close libraries, politicians turn away child refugees, politicians affect the housing they live in, the standard of the food they eat, their families' prospects and health. Politicians condemn some children in our country to be child carers - and children need to know this - and if politicians and the media are not telling them, then I feel that maybe I, as a story teller, can be one of those who plug the gap.  Politics affects the air they breathe, the environment they live in, the world they inhabit and the animals and birds and plants they depend on. Politics is definitely not just for adults.

But I don't want to become a propagandist. I don't want to forget that the story is the most important thing. My contribution can be, I hope, partly to help them to understand how stories work. I want them to experience and understand the power of storytellers - and to be storytellers themselves. I want them, experienced in story, to be able to recognise what is behind the stories they are being told, by politicians and others in the media who have political agendas. Children can be told terrible stories by adults - stories which make evil ideologies normal, as I found when I looked at Nazi children’s books at the Wiener library for my book ‘Girl with a White Dog’. 

There are so many recently published and wonderful books which are great stories and deal with politics today - I really want to read the new books about refugees by Gill Lewis and Elizabeth Laird, for example, but there are many many others, and I don't want to start listing them for fear I leave anyone out. Off the top of my head I can think of recent books by Miriam Halahmy, Sita Brachmachari, Francesca Sanna. Then there are historical books which help children understand political realities today - many written by people who write for this blog.

 I was so proud that my own 'Girl with a White Dog' was shortlisted for 'The Little Rebels Award' back in 2015 and am looking forward to reading the shortlisted ones for this year.

So - I am looking forward to Tuesday and hope I can get there - but even if I don't, I will keep thinking about this question. I want the story to be the most important thing in my books, and I don't want to write propaganda, but I also want the stories I tell to be consistent with the person I am - and the person I am does not exist in a political (or spiritual - but that's another story)  vacuum, and neither do the children I write for.

1 comment:

Susan Price said...

‘Should we provide readers with the tools to learn about the world around them, their role as citizens and their right to speak up? Or should children's fiction be about escapism and entertainment?'

The answer is, 'Both,' surely? Adult readers sometimes need challenging by a hard look at the world around them - and sometimes need just pure escapism. Children are the same.

Hard to combine in one book, perhaps.