I was on BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Talkback’ programme yesterday, talking about children and young people’s books. The truth is, much of what youngsters experience in the classroom teaches them that books are boring, so those writers who encourage youngsters to read – people like Roald Dahl, Sue Townsend, , J K Rowling – must be welcomed. But that wasn’t what we were talking about on Raidió Uladh yesterday. We were talking about adults who read children and young people’s books. Maybe I’m biased. When I was a young man, I once found myself in a group which included a loud young woman who at the time was attending Queen’s University. The subject of favourite books came up and she informed us all that she simply loved reading comics – the Beano, the Dandy, the Hotspur – you name it, she couldn’t get enough of it. Ever since I’ve had a hard time convincing myself that people who say they delight in reading literature written for youngsters are either suffering from arrested development or are look-at-me narcissists who deserve a kick in the arse more than serious attention.
That’s not to say that children’s and young people’s books can’t be good. Some of them are superb. If you haven’t read Maurice Sendak’s books for children you’ve missed a treat; and back in the day, writers like S E Hinton and Judy Blume and Paul Zindel wrote novels that were pacy and hilarious and moving. When I was a parent of young children and a teacher of high school English, I read many of those authors. But I did it because I wanted to locate books my children or pupils might want to read, not because I found it an area of literature that satisfied my adult reading needs.
And that’s the nub of it. There’s no law to stop me wearing teenage clothes or going door-to-door doing trick-or-treat or spending my spare time reading comics. But if I did, you’d rightly decide I was a bit...strange. Maybe even sad. Except, of course, you decided I was simply intent on drawing attention to myself as a highly literate eccentric. In which case you’d have every justification for strapping on your kicking boots.