Thursday, 22 January 2009

Favourite children's books

I was thinking about the books I used to love as a child. First up have to be the Famous Five books by Enid Blyton. There was a big element of wish fulfillment in these, as the Famous Five (Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy the dog of course) went off on holidays by themselves, rowed to private islands, discovered secret passageways and had perilous adventures outwitting criminals. Of course later came the controversy over Blyton with charges of xenophobia and even poor writing (see this Guardian page for a comment). I never noticed anything wrong with the actual writing itself: perhaps librarians cited this as a cause for not stocking the books when really they were concerned about other perceived iniquities in the books ... I liked the books myself because they were exciting and well-written in that I wanted to read on and on. I think children should be given a bit more credit for intelligence as well. It's quite easy to see that the Famous Five lived in another time and place where the middle-classes all had domestic staff. That didn't make me feel I couldn't connect with the characters at all, and I certainly didn't want the books updated.

Updating of children's books is another concern. I don't think it's necessary as children are quite aware of changes in manners and customs. The worst is when editors partially update books. The Jill books by Ruby Ferguson were also favourites of mine. As well as being about a girl who gets her own pony they have very amusing passages. As they were written in the 50s though, later editors have felt obliged to update the money from, eg 10 shillings to 50 p. As they haven't allowed for inflation though, this makes for ridiculous sums of money being paid for a pony! A child could happily have accepted that money has changed without silly changes being made.

Finally, I used to love the Narnia books by C S Lewis. My friend and I discovered these one summer holiday and we fetched new ones from the library each day. It was great! I'm afraid I read the stories for their own sake (children having adventures in magical lands) and didn't even notice the Christian allegory.

That brings me to my final point - sadly, I think that you can never go back. When the Rock Chick became a keen reader from the age of about 6, I used to hunt out all my old favourites for her from charity shops. Of course I re-read them myself but it was no longer as magical or exciting, as you might imagine. In fact the Christian allegory in the Narnia books I found heavy-handed and obtrusive! However I still envy children coming to these books for the first time.

Day 106; Book 104

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