“Look back, but don’t stare” : what I want from the world of children’s literature in 2014

I recently got a copy of the Take That documentary Look Back, Don’t Stare from the charity shop near me. It’s an amazing documentary and one that, in a way, bears a lot of interest for me. In it, we see the boy-now-attractive-beardy-man-band Take That come to terms with working together as a five piece: Gary, Mark, Howard, Jason and Robbbie Williams, back in the fold after a kazillion years working solo. The documentary itself is languid and evocatively put together, featuring smoke wreathed sessions in the recording booth, some very beautiful moments where we see the creation of the reformed band’s album, and some searing behind the scenes discussions between the guys. 

It’s the title of the documentary that stays with me as I come to write this post. This is the time of year where you see a lot of this sort of thing, but I think, for me, the difference is that I’m in a different place then where I was last year. Every year, really, let’s not just narrow it down to last year. The newness of where I am now hasn’t changed me with my relationship to books. It’s changed my writing, I can’t deny that. I hope it’s made it better. I think it has. I think I’ve got braver in what I want.

And what is it that I want?

I want truth. I want my niece and nephews to be able to grow up and know that they’re not alone. Literature gives us that, it gives us that mirror to our lives and door. It is the thing that shows us what our lives could be and what our lives are. I want books that they can pick up and see what is to be brave and foolish and sad and lovely. I don’t want the world wrapped up in lies. I want the world split open and dissected. I want people to be able to read things that make the lights spark in their brain and to make them feel like they do, sort of, at least a little bit, understand what they are, what they want from the world and what they can give the world.

I want the world to get a grip. I think sometimes we get mired in what literature was and what it should be, rather than celebrating what we have. That isn’t a call to disregard everything that was printed back in the day. Those works had to happen in order to get us here and they have made the now possible, and they have their intense value in what they are. But they are not what modern YA literature is. I do not want to have to read yet another article about the fact that teen literature covers some ‘unsavoury’ topics.. Teen literature always, but always, has pushed and defined  and made the boundary through necessity and through the bold brilliance of its readers. Whether that boundary has been Angela Brazil and her young ladies being trained for a career, or Melvin Burgess and his drug use, it’s not a new thing, it’s not a thing to be concerned about, and it’s time we moved on. Get over it. 

I want books that are brave in what they are, that makes the reader fall in love with the physical pleasure of reading. I’d like a book that plays with what it is, that makes the reader go back and front and upside down and physically interact with it. I’d like a book that makes you read it in capital letters, that makes you stand up and hold it to the light to see the letters hidden between the type, that makes you pull out a magnifying glass to read the poem hidden in the dot of an i. Essentially, I want a YA version of S. by JJ Abrams and Dorst.

I want to write a character that’s real, that’s flawed and still somehow loveable, that is fat and foxy and funny and bright and stupid and annoying and ignorant and clever all wrapped up in the same person. And if I manage to do that and make a person that makes you want to know them, then I will be happy. (Also I rather desperately want to introduce you to a character called Minna but that’s a whole ‘nother post). 

And do you want to know the thing that truly blows my mind? I think a lot of the above could actually happen.

Here’s to 2014, guys. Bottoms up. 



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