I had the privilege to attend the Bookseller’s Children’s Conference, running from the 20th to the 23rd of September 2021, and while the whole programme was interesting and diverse, there is one speaker in particular that caught my attention.
On day 2 of the conference, comedian and author David Baddiel was interviewed about his children’s books. As his stand-up acts before had been much more adult-focused, I wondered why he might turn to writing for a younger audience and how this might work. However, Baddiel seems to have found a brilliant foundation on which to create his career of writing for children, having won several awards for his works, including the Laugh Out Loud awards in 2016, and having sold 1.7 million books to date.
However, what sparked my interest in particular is not what he writes for children but how he writes for them. He says “I’m not going to talk down to them, comically” and expresses that many who write for children write comedy in a “twee” way. Children these days, he says, have been brought up on many varieties of comedy that he was not exposed to as a child himself, and therefore modern children have better comprehension about such things. He says that his own children are some of the funniest people he knows, and coming from a comedian, I say that’s quite the compliment.
In seeing children as a sophisticated, if younger, audience, he has managed to tap into something that I also personally believe – that while their minds are developing, it’s important to expose children to a lot of things that adults are also exposed to (with some exceptions). I’ve worked with children before, and they are not the mini-mes that lack any emotional depth like so many think they do. They are creative, empathetic, funny and more. If we limit them because we think ‘they won’t understand this anyway’, then we create that barrier and we disrupt their development.
Baddiel incorporates ironies, deep jokes and call backs into his books, and clearly he’s doing something right. His awards speak for that, but most importantly, it shows in the growing fanbase of children that love him.
Later in the interview, he talks about how it isn’t just comedy that the children understand better than we think they do. A child reached out to him about one of his books, expressing that he’d cried at an emotional scene and not understood why. The child’s mother told him it was because he was ‘moved’. This is what caught me, because it goes to show that children feel things just as deeply as we do, even if they don’t understand what it’s called or why it’s happened. We don’t need to understand what an emotion is or why it’s there for us to have it at all.
I respect Baddiel for understanding this and for catering to it, because I believe that treating children’s literature like this will develop this new generation for the better – for their emotional, mental and physical health.