My childhood was filled with reading, from Jacquline Wilson to Dick King Smith and from Micheal Morpurgo to Annie Dalton. There were stories all around me but not all the stories I read had happy endings. In Micheal Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful, when Tommo is gravely injured, Charlie stays with his younger brother instead of following orders and leaving Tommo behind. For disobeying orders, Charlie is sent to face the firing squad. At the end of Jacquline Wilson’s Suitcase Kid, Andy’s parents are still divorced but she is beginning to come to terms with it and is getting to know her new step-families. These are just two of many examples in children’s fiction which show not all stories have typical happy endings. Children need these stories as they reflect the real world.
As a publishing student, my world continues to revolve around books and stories. Two weeks ago my cohort and I were lucky enough to attended The Bookseller’s Children’s conference. We had the opportunity to listen to talks and discussions from many different people in the industry. One speaker’s words struck a chord with me. Children’s author Katherine Rundell spoke about how until children are able to understand that the world can be a scary, sad and horrible place, they can’t learn how much joy, love and hope there is to match it.
For any parent or care giver, the idea of telling children about hardships in life can be difficult. Many children’s books can be a way to escape everyday life, offering security and a “window of dreams” (Cassie Chadderton, 2020). In trying times, like the Coronavirus pandemic, it is more than tempting to protect children by attempting to maintain the illusion of the world as only full of joy, hope and love.
But children, especially today, are much more resilient than they are given credit for, and they do want to learn about the world. While Katherine Rundell’s words have stayed with me, Jelani Memory’s talk about his publishing house ‘a kids book about’ showed how these topics can be discussed at an appropriate level of understanding with children. They produce children’s non-fiction books about difficult topics including; racism, divorce, anxiety and bullying. The ethos of the publishing house is to ensure a diverse range of people write truthfully on a wide variety of subjects.
Writing stories, fiction or non-fiction, about difficult topics for children is hard. There is a fine line between educating children about the real world and overwhelming them. However, it is vitally important to ensure children know that even in a scary, sad and overwhelming world, hope, love and joy are present and in many cases shine through the bad to make this world a truly hopeful and exciting place in which to live and explore.