52-year-old British author Neil Gaiman has spoken out against ‘snobbish’ adult judgements being placed upon children’s literature.
The author, who delivered the second annual Reading Agency lecture in central London this week, chose to use this time, at least in part, to speak out against what he feels is a damaging trend in modern literary criticism.
“I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children,” began the author, addressing a crowd that included many leading figures from the arts and entertainment world, as well as several representatives from educational institutions.
“Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of children’s books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading,”
“I’ve seen it happen over and over; Enid Blyton was declared a bad author, so was (‘Goosebumps’ author) RL Stine, so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy”.
“It’s tosh, it’s snobbery and it’s foolishness”, he continued.
Mr Gaiman, who’s works include children’s books (Odd & The Frost Giants), comic books (Sandman, 1602) and prize winning novels (The Graveyard Book, Coraline, American Gods), has seen his works adapted into popular films (Stardust, Coraline), and has written for several TV shows (Babylon 5, Dr. Who, Neverwhere). He is generally considered to be one of the most prolific and celebrated authors of his generation, so it is likely that his criticisms will carry some weight.
Gaiman continued, saying that, “There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories”.
“A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn’t hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is the gateway drug to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you.
He continued with a warning to parents, teachers and even older siblings, when he said that,
“Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st Century equivalents of Victorian ‘improving’ literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.”
Gaiman’s own book, ‘Neverwhere’ was recently removed from a High School reading list in New Mexico after a parent complained that it was inappropriate.
Gaiman’s response to this was wry and well-considered, as he told a BBC reporter, “I tend to take books of mine being challenged and occasionally being banned – and very occasionally being burned – as a kind of badge of honour. You know you are doing something right.”
Mr. Gaiman’s concerns were echoed by a number of the lecture’s attendees.