Sarah Hall on the changing trends in children’s literature:
My six-year-old daughter is reading Dorothy Edwards’ My Naughty Little Sister and Bad Harry and something is puzzling her. Her brow furrows as she points to the text:
“Bad Harry lived quite near to us. There were no roads to cross to get to his house, and he and my sister often went round to visit each other without any grown-up person having to take them.”
We already know that the narrator is a “little girl” and her sister is “littler”: from the dialogue and her behaviour with Bad Harry, she’s clearly three at most. “How can she do that? Why can’t I do that?” asks my daughter. Then she offers her own reply. “Children can’t do that these days, can they?”
Wise words indeed…
Watching her enjoy these books – and ask why she can’t walk to school alone like Milly-Molly-Mandy, or play by herself in the street like My Naughty Little Sister – has made me question whether she loves them precisely because of her more restricted lifestyle.
Well, don’t we all read to see what life is like for others? What strange sorts of worlds have faded into the past?
Like many modern parents I suspect I am overprotective – a trait compounded by having covered stories such as the Soham murders and the murder of Sarah Payne as a former Guardian news reporter.
I’d have thought covering them might have had a temporary effect, but not a permanent one, given how rare these cases actually are…
And I’m not unique in being concerned: a survey conducted in June by the charity Play England, part of the National Children’s Bureau, found that only 40% of children play outside today, compared with 72% of their parents.
And how much did your reporting contribute to this?
Swallows and Amazons, Alice in Wonderland and Narnia may be some way off. But, with a taste for freedom – and, now, a touch of danger – I might have to steel myself for a run of Enid Blyton.
Ooooh! Now, don’t get ahead of yourself. You’ll be drummed out of the ‘Guardian’ circle for that!
But…she isn’t wrong, is she? Children were indeed accorded much, much more freedom in the past. Are we better for restricting that, or worse? I think I know where I’d hang my hat…