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Children’s Books: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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Label volunteer, Rebecca Pearson, shares her favourite books she grew up with in light of World Book Day and how book/reading culture has changed over time.

The vibrant world of books is often most-celebrated on World Book Day, with schools advocating for their pupils to dress up as a character that they like. It is children’s books which most often pervade our growing lives in wonderful, peculiar and thought-provoking ways.

Growing up, the books that we are drawn to change rapidly, and it is often the tales which grab a child’s imagination the most that reach the heights of resounding popularity. For me, it was the Rainbow Magic series of books – where each book followed the lives of Kirsty Tate and Rachel Walker on a magical adventure with their fairy friends – which I recall most vividly from my early reads. Each book was named a different fairy – for example, ‘Phoebe the Fashion Fairy’ – and coincided the human world with the fantastical one. Arguably, the series parallels the merging of worlds present in the Harry Potter books – both of which allow their readers to believe that the unlikely alternative world could exist. This same motif underpins literature for all ages, blending the real and imaginary in a way which holds our literary imagination hostage to its pages. I believe it is this aspect of wonder through reading which has most impacted me, and the genres I read now. Although, I must admit, I was quite miffed when I learnt that the ‘writer/s’ of the Rainbow Magic series were actually a collection of ghost writers, all writing under the pseudonym of ‘Daisy Meadows’ (I should have seen it coming).

But books change with age too. When I read Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Roald Dahl’s tales when I was little, I read them out of the innocently superficial enjoyment that all children read with. As books, they are aesthetically very pleasing. They come bound with iconic illustrations of unlikely beings, disproportionate animals, and characters worthy of the supernatural. They also provide humour and poke fun at our socially observed ‘norms’ – aspects which certainly encouraged the younger me to take the world with a more light-hearted approach. However, I wouldn’t have read the subliminal signs that may have lingered: hinting that, perhaps, Carroll had a preoccupation with Alice Liddell, the little girl who inspired the eponymous character. Nor would I have noticed that Dahl’s Oompa Loompas were first depicted as black Pygmy people.

There is often a dark side attached to children’s writing – think tales from the Brothers Grimm. Perhaps this is a result of Victorian didacticism – that a book should convey some aspect of moral teaching – which gives the narrative a dual purpose. Or perhaps the books have merely been over-read and over-analysed. Either way, the impact of children’s books certainly transcends the time in which they are read and alters our perspective of what our early minds were shaped by.

However, aside from questioning the theoretical and social motivations of children’s books, there are many which are becoming newly enjoyed. With technology highly advanced, there are more avenues through which to encourage reading. Some children’s books have recently been adapted into films for all to enjoy, for example, Little Women (2019) or The Jungle Book (2016) – perhaps acting as leverage with which children may begin to engage with the books themselves. Audiobooks and e-books have become increasingly popular ways to promote reading, allowing instant access to a wide range of books. Libraries are offering access to e-formats via the app BorrowBox which allows users to register with their library credentials and ‘borrow’ an online version of their chosen book. And interactive formats of reading are also proving popular, utilising the touch-screen element of a device to engage with a text which, in particular, may intrigue young readers enough to continue exploring other stories.

Outside of the medium of reading itself, social media users are becoming more vocal about what they’re reading. Bookstagrammers are offering insights into the styles and genres they are reading – properly engaging with World Literature, not only the so-called ‘classics’, in order to provide a more levelled platform. Some celebrities within the Arts industry, such as model Kaia Gerber and actress

Anya Taylor-Joy, have also been sharing their lesser-known reads, with Kaia Gerber also using her platform to host a ‘Book Club’. Even platforms like Twitter are becoming a springboard for the promotion of reading, subconsciously reshaping how we read by providing short snippets of fiction and non-fiction thought-pieces.

Whilst there are avenues of literature that popularity is still yet to reach, technology is quickly disseminating books that challenge our perceptions of reality, and reform the books we turn to. Hopefully the continuation of this, combined with enthusiastic readers, can continue to promote the fulfilment of reading

 

Header designed by Annabel Smith, Assistant Head of Design

Edited by Uchenna Omo-Bamawo, Culture editor

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Label Culture Editor 2020-21

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