This post was inspired by the article I read online (shown on my Useful Articles )
The article showed a list which it considered to be the 30 best children’s stories which are considered ‘classics’. I found this list interesting as although it doesn’t specify the ages of the children who this list would concern, as a teacher and parent myself…I’m not sure how well received these stories would be. ‘The Hobbit‘ by JRR Tolkien is an intense read and I feel a difficult concept for children to grasp.
‘Where The Wild Things Are‘ is a book that I have used many times during schemes of work in English at school but controversially, I have to say that I am not keen on the story. It is lovely that the book mainly consists of pictures so the children are free to use their imagination more but I think the overall story is a bit dull and in my experience, doesn’t quite captivate the children like other stories. I also think it condones bad behaviour but that is more of a parent gripe!
Unsurprisingly on the list are some Roald Dahl stories. I agree that Roald Dahl is a wonderful author and will forever remain an icon for classic children’s fiction. But in George’s Marvellous Medicine, I cannot help but feel encouraging children to mix ‘medicine’ by using a variety of household chemicals including horse tranquilisers is just a recipe for disaster! There must be something in it though as to my knowledge, there has never been an incident of a child ingesting something toxic and nasty with the claim of “Dahl made me do it”..
I noticed also that the story “Peter and Wendy” was included on the list, which horrifies me. I know that hisorically, Peter Pan has been considered to be a magical and alluring story about fantasy, flying and a little bit of pixie dust but the reality is sobering to say the least. It is widely acknowledged that Peter Pan is actually a story about death with the main character himself symbolising the angel of death, specifically existing to take the souls of dead children to the afterlife (Neverland) where they will never age and forever be bound together. The reason the Darlings are involved in this saga, is down to the fact that the youngest child died in his sleep and the angel of death’s arrival is solely to take his soul away. I know right?
Then there is “Sleeping Beauty”. A kind, gentle, innocent princess is cursed by a ‘wicked’ witch (the subject of Maleficent is a blog entry for another day as I absolutely love the character and feel she is completely misunderstood!) She is put to sleep for 100 years and only the kiss of some random man can awaken her. So basically, we instill in children from their early years that no matter what goes wrong in life as a female, as long as you have a handsome man to instigate some light sexual contact, everything will be fine. Brilliant.
I could go on but I think it is fair to say that many classic children’s stories are fairly inappropriate and dated. Although the language is often refined and allows children to have a richer vocabulary, when you consider, for example, the Beatrix Potter books, many of the words are virtually non-existent in the modern day so I’m not sure how beneficial being exposed to this type of language can be.
So where are we with modern fiction? I think our children’s fiction has never been better. Julia Donaldson’s books allow children to familiarise themselves with rhyme, colourful and engaging characters and morals that are completely appropriate. I particularly like ‘Zog’, the story of the dragon who persevered because he so desperately wants to do well. Then he meets a kind princess who decides to help him and then she eventually becomes a nurse. If that is not an advertisement for female empowerment then I don’t know what is! There is also “Tabby McTat”, a story about loyalty, family and friendship spanning generations.
Of course, when we are discussing modern children’s authors, it would be sacrilege to omit one of the greatest authors to emerge from the 21st Century…J.K Rowling. Her stories address so many themes relevant to young people and characters who many readers feel they grow up with throughout the series.
We also had the surprising career change of David Walliams, who suddenly revealed his inclination to write books. Since his debut as an author, it seems he has found his calling, with ‘The Guardian’ referring to him in an article in 2017 as ‘The King of Kids’ Books’ David Walliams: King of Kids’ Books.
I can’t say that the content and language of his books lends itself to improving the varied vocabulary in children but it seems to have ignited a passion for reading in many young people, which you simply cannot criticise.
I am sure if I looked hard enough, I would be able to find some modern children’s authors who create stories with a slightly dark edge but it seems to me that our current authors are working hard to incite good morals and wholesome values in our children which I highly commend. I think when it comes to children’s fiction…it is definitely no longer about ‘the good old days’ 🙂