Friday, May 01, 2009

Little Women. Unbelievable. They Chose Little Women. The Book They Want Kids To Read Is... Little Women.

If you walk into a bookshop anywhere in the UK in the next few weeks, the chances are very high that it will be a Waterstones, because WHSmiths isn't really a bookshop and most other bookshops seem to have been ground down and out of existence by supermarket discounting, public ignorance and publishers' lack of foresight.

And if you do find yourself in a Waterstones sometime soon, the chances are high that you will see something called the Laureate's Table. This is where all the poet laureates throughout history have had their last meal, before being executed by one of the Queen's angry swans.

No it isn't. I lied.

The Laureate's Table is in fact a selection of books chosen by the Children's Laureates as their favourite children's books of all time, ever, and, like, throughout history and beyond. You can read all about their selections here.

These books are going to be heavily promoted and discounted by Waterstones and will probably sell billions and billions of copies per second until all the paper in the world is sucked up into a swirling vortex of chaos.

I once worked in the children's books industry. Oh wait, apparently I still do. I'm a children's author, dontcha know. (For now, anyway.) So here are a few words from me on the Children's Laureates' selections...

How old are these people? 95? 142? Almost every book they've chosen was published while the Spanish Armada was still the main threat to the British way of life.

Are these people not meant to be promoting Children's books and getting kids excited about reading? If you haven't yet looked at the list of titles they chose, how many of the 35 books do you think were published this century?


The answer is two.

All of Michael Morpurgo's choices were published before 1945. (Do you think someone should tell him we won the war?)

All of Jacqueline Wilson's choices were published before 1937.

Did they all get together and collectively decide that there was absolutely no point including any books that any real kids would have any interest in reading? Do they really have no inclination to recommend any work that's still in copyright, or perhaps something written by an author who's still alive? How about using their vast experience and knowledge to pick out some books by current authors that haven't otherwise been highlighted by promotions?

I suspect the truth is that they don't really know what great books are out there now. They're not children, so I have no problem with them not reading children's books.

Oh, wait, maybe I do. They are Children's Laureates. They have been given a great big stonking platform from which to promote children's books and the cause of reading.

On that platform they have put the likes of Little Women and Five Go to Smuggler's Top.


Anonymous said...

You are being ageist. These hardworking people took the time out to recommend the books that they enjoyed when they were children. It's not their fault that they are all now too blind to read the latest batch of children's books.

Each and every one of these octogenarian made the effort to have themselves wheeled to the ballot box with their personal recollection (alzheimers) not withstanding of the outstanding books of their youth.

They did this without complaint or medication.

Some poor sole then had to translate the spider crawls into some semblance of english and then guess what they were thinking.

I believe that the actual top book was entitled "where are my teeth?"

NutmegAngel said...

I have actually read some of them. Little Women was quite good, so was What Katy Did. Same with the Railway Children. My brother loves the Famous Five books. But I'm not entirely sure how appropriate Oliver Twist is. It's a nice musical, but it's a more difficult book to read. I suppose it depends what age of children these are supposed to be fore...

Joe said...

I'm impressed you've read a few of them. But I know you're a particularly thirsty reader.
I'm sure they're all good books, but I'm not sure they're books that should be recommended to anybody born since 1980. And whether the Laureates like it or not, when they make a list of their favourite books, they're making recommendations to teachers, librarians, parents and kids. Then there's the media of course, who give so little space to books as it is, that it really doesn't help to have that space taken up by lists like this one.

James Casey said...

Five Go To Smugglers Top was possibly my favourite book as a child. Well, no, that's putting it too strongly - but it is what prompted me to write/be creative for the first time I can really remember.

Little Women, however, I read last year, and found extremely tough going.

Anonymous said...

Joe, what words of wisdom you speak...I couldn't agree with you more. Robert Louis Stevenson - couldn't write a good story to save his life, Richmal Crompton - no charm or humour whatsoever, Oscar Wilde - what does he know about anything, Charles Dickens - novels peopled by dreary 2 dimensional characters. Oh dear, not one of these books has anything of any value in them. What on earth will children gain by reading them??????

John Finnemore said...

"...but I'm not sure they're books that should be recommended to anybody born since 1980."

Wha- ...No, you're teasing. Aren't you? Why in the world shouldn't you recommend 'Just So Stories' or 'Absolute Zero' or 'Treasure Island' to an under 29 year old? They're terrific books! Yes, they're out of date, but they've been out of date for about ninety and twenty-five and a hundred and twenty years respectively. What is it about the current generation of young readers that makes you think they're the first generation ever who are only capable of enjoying things written in their lifetimes? Should they only watch films made since 2000? How about music?

After all, the laureates remit wasn't to pick good books to get non-readers interested in reading, or to promote overlooked contemporary authors - if it had been, I'm sure they would have been able to put together excellent lists for both - it was to name what they considered to be the best children's books of all time. Surely it would have been a coincidence if all that many of them had been written this century? It's not been a very long century, so far. Maybe it'll get longer with time.

The thing is, it annoys me that 'getting kids excited about reading' is always taken to mean tempting kids who've never willingly opened a book since 'Bangers and Mash' into giving it a go. That's certainly vital, but bookshops, publishers, libraries and schools are all busily doing it. And what's also important is telling kids who've discovered they do like reading that there's these amazing stories about a poor family in 1937, or an eccentric family in 1978, that they've never heard of, and aren't (usually) promoted in Waterstones, and will maybe take a bit of getting used to at first, but that they'll really like. Some kids are lucky enough to have parents, friends, or teachers who can do this, but some don't; and for them I think this list does a pretty good job. There's a lot of titles on it that I think 'real children' would indeed have an interest in reading, if they knew about them, because real children have done ever since they were published.

Though I agree it's a shame about 'Little Women'.

Anonymous said...

Joe, What's with your knocking all these books written before you were born? When one of my reading group wrote and asked you to add to our list of 'Books to read before you die' (with probably the same aim as these lists) what was your suggestion....THE AENEID!!!!! Written over 2000 years ago! Come on.......make your mind up!