The marginalisation of children’s literature

Amanda Craig has left The Times. For those of you who don’t know her work, she is a critic of children’s literature. She is very good. She was one of the few mainstream print media ‘presences’ of children’s literature.

I have been thinking about this. And other things like this, like this post on the future of public libraries, and the way that I desperately long for there to be a future and yet, somehow, wrapped up inside of all of that, I have a fear that they won’t have a future.

And I have been thinking about the marginalisation of children’s literature.

It’s weird, don’t you think, what we do with children and their literature? We are talked to about these books, we are graded on it, we pull it to shreds in school. We live our lives with these characters and then – suddenly – we “grow up”. And as as adults, we don’t seem to want to own it anymore We don’t really seem to want to have anything to do with children’s literature it unless we have to. It does not fit in our world.

Think of all the times that adult books touch our lives. Think of how they touch our lives; of the pad-tastic nature of the ‘I loved this so you will to’ Christmas reccomendations in the Sunday paper, of the way that these books are rooted, so heavily, in our conscience. They are given away with magazines, piled up in the shop at the station, part of our airport routine. We fit them in. They fit in. They are an accepted paraphenalia of our adult lives.

But do children’s books? Do they, well, fit? There are times when I don’t think they do and, to be frank,  I’m not sure if that says more about them or us.

Have a look at this. There’s something hideous about the ending to this piece at The Telegraph revealing the Costa Book Awards 2013 shortlist. Note the difference between the adult and the children’s books? Not one of the children’s books have been reviewed by The Telegraph. Now, I can’t claim the moral highground here having reviewed just one of the children’s titles but what I can do is tell you that  that one is one of the best books I have read all year.

Literature does things. When we read, we live, we love, we laugh. We long for worlds we can never know, learn how to understand the shadow of our selves and we yearn for the most perfect of loves and lives.

Children’s Literature does things. When we read children’s books,, we live, we love, we laugh. We long for worlds we can never know, learn how to understand the shadow of our selves and we yearn for the most perfect of loves and lives.

See the similarities? Good. They are there, there, there.

We ask the world of children’s literature. We ask it to be read a thousand times in the shape of a picture book, to be pulled apart in coursework, to be passed down from generation to generation. We ask it to keep the kids quiet, to make them clever, to answer the questions we are unable to let form in our mouths.

It would be behoove us to let children’s literature live a little.

It would behoove us to give it the respect it is due.

9 thoughts on “The marginalisation of children’s literature

  1. This is a heartfelt cry that I entirely sympathise with. Why do the right-of-centre broadsheets relegate children’s lit to the sidelines? Is it a political stance in keeping with a paternalistic don’t-worry-your-little-heads-about-it-we’re-in-charge philosophy? Anyway, I like the recent comment at the end of your Telegraph link which went For some reason none of the links to the children’s titles are working — though it ended rather unnecessarily with a knowing wink: 😉

  2. I liken it a bit to what was said a while ago about why literature written by men is more likely to be reviewed than literature written by women in the most influential publications. (You may remember it was called The Agony Of The Male Novelist) in which it is argued by some that because women are the ones attending book clubs and buying novels then men need more of a leg up. Of course, this argument is ridiculous. What if we were to apply that to The Agony Of The Female Athlete, or any number of other things…

    Anyhow, I bring this up because there may well be this idea in the journalistic ether that *because* children’s literature is studied, read and and analysed, it doesn’t need any further coverage in major publications. I don’t agree with this one iota, as it happens, but when I try to reason why children’s literature is so marginalised, it’s all I got.

    1. Thank you for this. That’s really interesting (though I think I’m agreeing with you on your disagreeal with it!) I will have a look at that link to – thanks for sharing.

  3. Brilliant post! You articulate the passion and frustration so well. Let’s hope there are enough of us out there that do believe in the importance of children’s literature to introduce a new generation to the joys that lay within.

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