A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Okay, so this is a bit of a soap box moment for me.
The question was, what would I like to see more of – in young people’s publishing terms, that is. For me, it’s an easy one. I want to see more heroes and heroines with flaws. I want to celebrate the real people.
Let me explain. Sometimes, the central characters of books for young readers are just a bit intimidating – in that they’re way too smart, talented or (the dreaded) ‘feisty’. For the average reader, I think that can be hard to live up to.
Like all girls of my generation, I loved Enid Blyton’s books and wanted to be in one of the gangs that had adventures and solved mysteries, or to be at the wonderful St Clare’s or Malory Towers boarding schools. The trouble is, deep down I knew I wasn’t anything like as clever or brave as any of those kids. I’d never truly have fitted in.
If they’d let me into the Famous Five, I would be the one who broke my ankle and held everyone up as they were trying to escape from the ruthless smugglers. The O’Sullivan twins at St Clare’s wouldn’t have wanted me in their cool circle of friends – I don’t know one end of a lacrosse stick from another, I would be a bit whingey about ‘mucking in’ and I’m definitely not posh enough.
Much as I’d hope to be selected for Gryffindor or Ravenclaw, if I made it to Hogwarts I’d probably have ended up in Hufflepuff, due to a general haplessness and lack of cool. And who can match up to Hermione?
Things are better in children’s literature these days, I know. Protagonists don’t have to be posh, for a start. And often, the central character starts off being bullied or sidelined and finds a way to deal with it. But sometimes heroes and heroines are just that bit too brilliant, with hidden or not-so-hidden bits of genius and a noble streak that runs through them like letters in a stick of rock. What’s more, if they start off as rather unpleasant, you can bet they’ll end up being nicer by the end of the story.
My character Annie (in The Serpent House) is not very brave. She cries and gets scared, she’s often grumpy and she thinks far too much about food. She’s not pretty either – and has no real desire to be.
In lots of time fantasies, the travellers usually come back having learned a lesson that helps them fit in better, with their friends and family. Annie, however, learns to be truly stroppy and to say no.
So this is what I would like to see more of in children’s literature: the sort of flawed, not always very loveable central characters, who may learn something but don’t turn into Pollyanna at any stage of the tale. I bet you can already recommend a few good examples – can you?
Bea Davenport is the writing name of former journalist Barbara Henderson. Bea worked in newspapers and broadcasting for a long time, including seventeen years at BBC North in Newcastle, where she worked on TV, radio and online.
She left journalism to study for a Creative Writing PhD at Newcastle University. The children’s novel written as part of that, The Serpent House, is to be published by Curious Fox in June 2014. The Serpent House is a historical time-fantasy inspired by the medieval leper hospital once sited in the village where Bea now lives. Before being commissioned by Curious Fox, it was shortlisted for the 2010 Times/Chicken House Award.
The Serpent House is Bea’s first novel for children, although her debut adult crime/suspense novel was published by Legend Press in June 2013, and it will be followed by another crime novel with Legend Press in 2014.
She lives in Berwick-upon Tweed on the Northumberland-Scottish border with her partner, children and one naughty cat.