Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Is it worth reading?

With the wealth of quality children’s and young people’s books available today it slightly surprises me when someone wants their children to read authors like Enid Blyton. I was reminded of the power of nostalgia when I heard a young mother who had bought her children some of the “Famous Five”  books say she was most disappointed to find the stories were much less vivid than they  seemed to her as a s child.
As an 8 year old (in the late 1950’s) travelling on the SS Strathnaver from England to Australia I had three quarto volumes of Enid Blyton - the First, Second and Third Enid Blyton Books. They were probably the only books I had to read so I devoured them and they made an impression. However, even in my tender years, some of the stories left a bad taste.
The one that even now springs to mind is the story of the bad apple. In this tale Granny had five boys helping her store apples and instructs her good little grandson George not to store any apple with any blemish. However he ignores an apple with a small blemish and this apple rots and turns its neighbours bad. Granny is asked to look after another boy Sammy who is described as sly and deceitful; she refuses saying he is a bad apple and would turn the other boys bad. Read the story 'Grannie's Bad Apple' online in The Second Enid Blyton Book.
Even then, I found this story obnoxious. I could not accept that that Sammy was irredeemably bad and he was going to adversely affect four others.
Now I understand the underlying class attitude. I know from reading Robert Thouless’ classic work on logic in argument Straight and Crooked Thinking that this is an argument by analogy that fails simply because boys are not apples. Imagine what Sammy will turn out to be as an adult if he is treated as rotten as a child.
Stories frame our confirmation bias; i.e. we tend only to accept evidence that fits these biases. It is not trivial or “political correctness’ that we critically asses that the books we give our children are worth the reading.

Richard Pickup
Retiring president CBCA Tas Branch

1 comment:

  1. I certainly think there is a place for nostalgic fiction, especially when it is a parent sharing a special book with a child. Even if the story disappoints, that can be a wonderful option for discussion. Like all favourites of the past, they don't necessarily stack up in the light of the current century. I have a nostalgic favourite on my bookshelf. A 50c Scholastic book: The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. My youngest daughter (the only one in our family who doesn't have a book on the go constantly)loved this when she was in high school. She took it to school, and found that her teacher also had fond memories of it and borrowed it to re-read. The bond this gave her with the teacher was amazing. So yes - let's acknowledge the role these books played in the past, share them with our children, and encourage them to share with us the contemporary books they are enjoying.