Bad books for children?(40 Posts)
I am studying for a Masters in Writing for Young People and writing an essay on whether there is any such thing as a bad book for children. In the past people have described Enid Blyton, Rainbow Magic/Beast Quest and even David Walliams as 'bad books'. What do you think? Have you bought Rainbow Magic books for your dd or do you refuse to let her read them? I would love to know your views. Thanks
my daughters have a mix of things like Rainbow Fairies (kind of the child version of chick lit in the sense that they can switch off when reading it) and Holly Webb, Jill Murphy, Jill Tomlinson, Roald Dahl, Dick King Smith, Gobbolino, Little Mrs Pepperpot, Paddington, other old texts from my childhood lots of people probably vaguely remember etc.
To me personally BAD books for children would describe ones which involve inappropriate material for children of that age. However each person's definition of that obviously varies. My children have happy, simple, sheltered lives so there is no need for them to read stories about divorce, violence, gore, crime etc at the ages they are. but they are still very young and would rather read about fairies, mermaids, animals and so on anyway.
I would stop them reading matter which I feel is too grown up for them but not stuff which is just simple happy reading. I think Rainbow Fairies are formulaic and not exactly literary works of art but I do think they have a place in that if a child is enjoying them then they are reading which is the main thing and they are able to escape into a happy little world for a while, in some cases escaping a very different reality.
My personal nos were Jacqueline Wilson & Jorrid Henry - the first for what I felt was inappropriate content for the target age range & the second for encouraging & celebrating bad behaviour.
The Large Family book A Piece of Cake. Starts off with "I'm fat" said Mrs Large. Ends with them all secretly binging.
DD has happily read hundreds of Rainbow Fairies and now hundreds of Enid Blytons. I'm happy with all of it - she has fantastic reading stamina now and will be a lifelong reader as a result.
Rainbow Fairies are formulaic but I think that's a good thing at a certain stage of reading comprehension. They are not having to work too hard on the plot as they know there will be three stolen things and some goblins so they don't lose momentum and give up. I think they are great for this transitional stage.
As for Enid Blyton, my DD has found them gripping and compelling so what's not to like? As long as the out of date inappropriate language is gone (which it mostly is these days) I'm fine with them and I remember the joy of the hours spent in the company of the Famous Five or the Malory Towers lot. It's also fairly exotic these days - nothing like a childhood today. So you can't even claim they are dull.
Another vote here for Horrid Henry and also Dirty Birty although my son loved them
I was also going to say Jacqueline Wilson books - they are written in such an informal chatty way. The kids try to emulate it and end up not writing full sentences.
I think that reading 'bad' books (Rainbow Fairies, Beast Quest et al) is just as important as reading 'good' ones. How else are children going to learn to discriminate?
On the whole, anything that gets them reading is fine by me - so long as it's reasonably age-appropriate and doesn't contain excessively foul language (Some Jacqueline Wilson would fall into this category due to its content, and I had to hide Nicky Hornby from my son when he was 10). The Harry Potter books are badly written, but one can't really complain when they made so many children excited about reading...
As for Enid: my DD devours her stories, and I still think they are fab.
Tiara Club books are FAR worse than Rainbow Magic imo. I can't stand the way they are written with EVERY other WORD written in CAPITALS!!
My niece was utterly addicted to Rainbow fairies a few years ago and is never out of a book - is currently working her way through the Carnegie short list. The RF books are only bad for the grown ups reading them aloud!
Perhaps you could see bad books as ones which underestimate the reader's intelligence, ones that are lazy and don't leave any meanings to be uncovered. We're def shaped more than we think by expectations. We respect the opinion of those around us, again, more than we think- so if we get the message that we should be aiming for this level (when actually we could be aiming for a higher level), we'll probably take that as authority and settle. And miss out on enjoyment & so on.
Enid Blyton is excellent esp. I think for aspiring writers because she does controlled structure and character so well. As a kid, when I suddenly realised she did follow a formula however loosely, I found it almost reassuring, it was like rules for writing or something! Didn't she try to write a play for adults, which got turned down, with the publisher telling her to stick to kids books....poor thing. I bet she got fed up of bloody fairies in the end. I do wonder if she ever had a ghost writer....like Francine Pascal! Did FP ever even exist I'd like to know....
I agree that disturbing content for whatever age can be damaging, for the time it takes to process what you've not yet 'digested'....but what's true for one may not be for the other.....my mum had The Kid and the 3 Dave Pelzer books lying around when I was circa 9 and I read them a few times (simple language, drama, easy to read, fascinating to a kid raised on a diet of school stories....) and wasn't scarred, I don't think. In fact I think those books helped me very much in the process of piecing together my psychological outlook on people, I think it made me more sympathetic in general, especially made me think about the different types of unhappiness there can be.
Interesting. I'm on my phone, so this won't come out as eloquently as I'd like it to, but, DD (just turned 4) is obsessed with fairy stories and has numerous versions of all her favourites (I think we owned 11 different versions of Cinderella last time I counted, not to mention library books and complications, etc)
This seems to be looked on very favourably at the moment (was picked up on in her nursery class report and linked to various eyfs cultural type targets). However some, most in fact, of her favourite fairy stories are in fact thinly masked 'be a good girl or get raped/killed' or 'be a good girl and if you're lucky a man will come along and complete you' type morality tales. We have some modern adaptations which challenge this, but I can't help but wonder whether the more faithful versions are better suited to teen/adult audiences who are better able to recognise them for what they are.
I don't think there is a bad book. Perhaps a bad age to read them but not a bad book as such.
Obviously there's some shit out there but if the reader is enjoying it then that's all that matters.
I think it all links into the modern concept of what it means to be a child, how adults can manufacture this separate world of childhood that magically ceases to exist for the individual when he eventually crosses over the line into the real world, when we're deemed to be mature enough to experience what will in fact happen to everyone, whether someone makes the decision or not. We are very keen to 'preserve' or maintain something that seems to actually have little basis in history. Is childhood a good idea? I mean, to create these two states of being and create a distinction between ages? Why do we desperately want to suspend reality for children- is it really for them or is it for us.
Must say Straddling I'm v. happy to hear that you let your daughter have so much access to something you obviously have some trouble with. My parents always limited my reading (they wanted a clever kid, so), and that's fine to a certain extent, but it's not left me without a few complexes about what's 'worthy' and what's not. For example I wish they'd never used the word 'baby books' to me, to describe stuff which everyone else my age was reading and which I'd have loved to read too, but wasn't allowed.
Oh that bloody Large Family book! 'Lets all force ourselves to eat carrots then go for a healthy jog round the park'. Awful. And the one in which mum is ill in bed and Dad is incompetent. Ugh.
Those kinds of books, with insidious messages, are bad ones, IMO. I also dislike most TV/ Disney spin off books as they're so badly written. But I can see they have a place in encouraging reading in some families.
Oh I love the Penguin books of blockbusters- read the Philadelphia, Kramer vs. Kramer and The Graduate ones.....I think they're so funny! They're so exactly true to the film. Who gets to write those? Sign me up!
revolutionarytoad I'll admit that I did rather
hope think that the phase would have passed by now (it's been over a year now) and I do struggle with it. I balance it by making sure she has access to a wide range of other books and by talking about the stories and gently challenging some of the more troubling themes (eg. The princess and the frog - we talk about when it might be ok to break a promise)
I don't want to censor them though (within reason of course!) My parents gave me almost free rein with books and I'm eternally grateful to them.
I wouldn't say there are 'bad' books as such. I think all books have their place, and things like Rainbow Magic are great for motivating children.
I do, however, think that we should aim to help children access a wide variety of reading material. They should know that there's more to life and literature than defeating bloody Jack Frost again... And again.... And again. And we should ensure that they can make and explain their own choices about literature.
I do also think that some books need to be read with adult guidance, so that children are able to consider the context, and recognise that just because it's in a book does not mean it's true/good/appropriate.
E.g. I wouldn't want a young reader coming across something like 'Huckleberry Finn' and reading it completely independently. Or Anne Frank's diary. Or Out of the Ashes, War Horse or many other books by Michael Morpurgo. They're not bad books, but neither are they appropriate for children of any age.
Straddling there's probably loads going on below the surface that no one can see- her idea of princesses has probably evolved hugely during the year, even if no one but she could see the difference! I mean think how much our images of things shift all the time....
MrsK would you also then whenever possible want to avoid the child being scared?
Like, there's always threads on here asking whether say Harry Potter is too scary for this age or that age...again, is it because parents as empathetic creatures simply don't want their kid to experience pain (and why not- it's a learning experience, no?), because they don't want them to become desensitised to certain things or because they think it is actively damaging to the child, something they won't be able to repair?
I tend to think that we group kids too much by age. Just like maybe all ten year olds shouldn't be taught together, maybe readers shouldn't be classified by age either. Of course it's a useful tool to a large degree because we're not all that unique, but on the other hand....
well anyway. I'll stop my semi drunken blatherings....interesting thread though OP!
When I was a child the librarian refused to let me take out anything by Rald Dahl as it was 'not suitable for little girls.'
I think as long as you talk about them most things are ok. As someone up thread said makes them discriminate and start thinking critically.
Would want to read books I didn't know before my children read them though (however we'll see - DD 1 is only 5!).
I've found some crappy ones. Often TV/other tie ins are awful - no substance, no plot, spelling and grammar errors - I counted about ten in an Angry Birds annual. Some TV or film based books are good but IME, they are the minority.
I also hate educational books which have incorrect facts or things which are really badly explained so could lead to confusion. I don't mind simple explanations for younger children, but confusing or plain wrong explanations are a bad thing IMO.
Rainbow fairies etc are a bit like "chick lit for kids" - not stunningly intellectual or well written, and deathly boring if you're not interested in the genre yourself, but perfectly harmless and definitely fun, for the child anyway!
Enid Blyton has some date issues like racism, sexism, social concepts but that's not necessarily bad it's just a discussion point (and perhaps a reason to avoid older copies!)
That Large family book got 'lost' to the charity shop. And I have steered dd1 away from Horrid Henry and towards other books by the same author, as I don't like the way Perfect Peter is portrayed.
I also had a discussion about racism when we read the first chapter of The Horse and His Boy, and she actually decided just to skip on to the next book in the series (though that was more to do with the flowery language being hard work).
Join the discussion
Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.Register now
Already registered with Mumsnet? Log in to leave your comment or alternatively, sign in with Facebook or Google.
Please login first.