Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Children's books shouldn't sit still and behave

David Almond, the new artistic director of the Telegraph Bath Festival of Children’s Literature, argues that young readers are essential to our cultural life.

David Almond is the new artistic director of the Telegraph Bath Festival of Children's Literature
David Almond is the new artistic director of the Telegraph Bath Festival of Children's Literature Photo: Martin Pope
What a thrill to be guest artistic director of Bath Festival of Children’s Literature. If I’d told myself a dozen or so years ago that I’d be involved in such a thing, I’d have been amazed – just as I was once amazed to find myself to be a children’s author. But life’s like any decent story: try to plan it, and off it runs in unexpected directions.
I’m an intelligent, educated adult. I thought I’d write books for intelligent, educated adults. So I did, or tried to, for several years. Then a new story, Skellig, started telling itself in my head. When I began to write it down, I knew it was the best thing I'd done, that it was the culmination of everything I’d written before, and that it was a book for children. I was astonished and liberated. New artistic possibilities opened up. When the book was published, I found myself entering a new world, that of children’s books, a world populated by folk who really do believe that storytelling can change lives and reshape the world.
Children’s literature is a place of great experimentation. Like children themselves, it can be hilariously playful and deeply serious. It isn’t content to sit on shelves and behave. It is inquisitive, exploratory – and difficult to categorise. It tells tales of rabbits and ducks, of vampires and zombies, of ordinary kids in ordinary homes, of love and death, and explores the most profound, joyful and troubling aspects of human experience. It experiments with narrative and form, with the shape of the page and the shape of the book. It is where literary culture is constantly renewed. We overlook this world at our peril. It is, and always will be, at the heart of our cultural life.
The pessimists doubt this. They tell us that the book is dying, that children don’t read. They need to be taken to literary events to see that children do read, that they read with passion and intelligence and excitement, that they ask the most perceptive questions and give the most vivid responses.
Children defy adult attempts to categorise artistic form. Tell a child the story of Hansel and Gretel and soon she’ll be tiptoeing through the house as if it were a forest, trembling with dread, peeping into the kitchen as if a witch might be hiding there. The story on the page becomes a story told by the voice and a story acted out in space. 
Full article at The Telegraph

No comments: