Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The Girl Power of Louise Rennison. By Keren David

One of the first things I did when I first began writing books for teenagers, seven years ago, was to sign up as a parent volunteer helper at my daughter's school library. It'd be interesting, I thought, to spend time with children who didn't find reading easy or attractive. If I could find out how to make them enthusiastic readers, I might learn something crucial when it came to writing for them. 
Best party outfit ever...

The school, a big comprehensive in north London, wanted parents to come and help Y7 pupils deemed to have fallen behind with their reading.We were each assigned two students, who we'd meet on alternate weeks to talk about their reading, listen to them read aloud and generally find strategies to encourage them to read more fluently and more often.
One of my first readers was the lovely Keja. She steamed into the library to meet me, absolutely furious that she'd been chosen.
'I LOVE reading,' she declared. 'I LOVE books. I read all the time! I shouldn't be here!'
It turned out that Keja's love of books and reading  was quite recent. Her aunt had given her a book for her birthday that she'd fallen in love with. Since then she'd read two more in the same series.One book was the key to a whole library for Keja. 
Which book performed this transformation? Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison, a completely hilarious account of one Georgia Nicholson's life at school, chasing boys, falling out with friends and battling with her parents.
Seven years on, and I'm now Patron of Reading at that same school. Last week I spoke at three assemblies for World Book Day. I told them about Keja and the way one book made her fall in love with reading. And I told them the terribly sad news that Louise Rennison's death had just been announced. There was shock and sadness on so many young girls' faces, testament to Louise's continued popularity.
Louise Rennison made girls laugh. She made me laugh so much that I fell off a sofa. In Georgia Nicholson, the girl who dresses up as an olive for a fancy dress party, she created someone who Keja and I both identified with, even though our schooldays were separated by thirty years.  Georgia Nicholson is the female Adrian Mole -  I think she's funnier - and her friends are a younger, girl version of the In-Betweeners. 
I'd bet a large amount that Keja wasn't the only girl who fell in love with reading because of Louise Rennison. Her books -  unpretentious, clever, honest, true and completely hilarious every time  - dispensed a subtle feminism along with the snogging.
 In America they gave her books glossaries, but her uncompromising Britishness didn't deter readers.  The exuberant bounciness and inventive word play of Georgia's voice feels effortless as you read it -  but as we writers know, that easiness takes a great deal of skill.
I am so sad that I never got to meet Louise, and tell her about the impact she made on Keja. We UKYA writers owe her a huge debt. I hope that the publishing world will find a suitable way to honour her memory. 'She who laughs last, laughs the laughiest,' she wrote. Louise was the laughiest of us all. 


Penny Dolan said...

So pleased to find this appreciation of Rennison's work here today, and your account of the way her wonderful books inspired girls to read, and to laugh and to be more themselves because they knew someone understood their lives.

Emma Barnes said...

I loved Louise Rennison's work too - and, like you, loved seeing the huge pleasure she brought her young readers. Lots of laughter, and tears too, when Angus ended up in the ER...what a devastating moment! I think she will also have a lasting effect on the language - I'm not the only one, surely, who only last week was thinking to myself "It's nippy noodles..." (no coincidence perhaps that I live in Louise Rennison's original hometown, Leeds).

Jo Franklin said...

What a lovely tribute to Louise. I would have loved to have read her books read while I was a gawky teenager doing everything wrong.