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So, this again ...

December 10, 2013

Over at the Guardian, novelist and professor of literature Jonathan Myerson has joined the long list of well-intentioned editorial writers holding forth on children's literature without (apparently) reading much of it. (He mentions merely *Twilight* and *Harry Potter*.)

 

You'll be glad to know, fellow children's writers, that this time we get to dispense with our work to "confront the full range of genuine human experience, a world where individuals do not wear the same black or white hat every day." We get to ignore the fact that "Life is messy, life is surprising and, most of all, life is full of compromises."

 

But it's okay, because it's "quite right that [children] wanted to read about worlds where evil was uniformly evil and good people were constantly good." He wouldn't want them to, say, "cope with the unwinnable dilemmas of JM Coetzee's *Disgrace*." Telling choice. *Disgrace* is about a middle-aged white guy having an affair. (footnote) It is indeed true that when you read YA you rarely have to read about middle-aged white guys having affairs, which I personally think of as a plus. But anyone who thinks unwinnable dilemmas have no place in children's literature both doesn't remember what it's like to be a child, and somehow missed a little book called *The Hunger Games*.

 

Still, I will give Professor Myerson this: he does not make the usual mistake of assuming that genre markers are indications of quality. He allows that children's literature is deeply valuable and probably hard to write. "It isn't about the quality of the prose: the best children's books are better structured and written than many adult works."

 

Yeah, thanks for that. Please stop patting me on the head. My hair is getting ruffled, and I urgently need to get back to my desk. I need to renounce *Plain Kate*, which features a weirdly sympathetic and compelling villain, and throw out *Sorrow's Knot*, which centres around the world's least winnable dilemma: grief.

 

Come to think of it, the work in progress is going to have to go too. Frankly I'm done for. I really don't know what I'm going to write. This "children's literature" of Professor Myerson's doesn't sound very interesting.

 

_____________

(footnote:) Though, should you want to read about white guys having affairs, *Disgrace* is a good choice. Set in post-apartheid South Africa, it is about grace, and disgrace, about what is earned and what can only be given, about what one deserves and what one gets. It is lovely.

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