The other day I was talking to my school librarian and immediate supervisor in my Library Sciences and Media I-S about children’s books. If memory serves I said something like, “We Americans should just give up, there’s no point in us writing any children’s literature as anything good has already been written by the Brits.”
Yes, I know this isn’t perfectly true (we have Doctor Seuss and one or two others I’m sure) but let’s look what I believe are the greatest children’s stories of all times (excluding picture books): Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers, Paddington by M. Bond, The Borrowers by Mary Norton and Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne (and then on the slightly more advanced level we’ve got The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit, books who don’t even need their authors’ names mentioned.) What is it that makes the British so excellent at writing for children?
I think the main point is that they don’t dumb down. While reading A House at Pooh Corners in the middle of a juniper patch overlooking Lake Caspian I realized: Eyore just made a suicide joke. Now that is something that I would be shocked to see an American write. We seem so concerned with preserving the cuddliness of our children that we forget that they are just as cynical and mean-spirited as us (children are also optimistic and wise so they’re kinda nature’s walking paradoxes). On a note of cuddling children just look at what we did with Mary Poppins and Winnie-the-Pooh when made into movies, they were nothing like their British originals (though I still love my Disney movies.) Children like being treated like they’re mentally competent because they really are.
And let’s not forget how lovely the British writing style is (yes, I realize that I’ve been using gross generalizations throughout this post but suck it up). Whenever I read a piece I can almost guess exactly which side of the pond it’s from. The British write with such precision and accuracy and know when to make a sentence last for six pages and when to make it stop after two words. (The Irish writers have one of those nailed down.) And the dryness! I know that it can be an over used expression to say that the British humor is dry but I think that it’s one of the things children appreciate. There’s something about almost having to hunt for the joke that makes it all the more satisfying. Children’s lit. is full of cutesy jokes that are hit over your head, their amusing but when you need to think about a joke the pause you take makes it all the more satisfying.
In short- The British are probably superior to us in some to most ways (a much more entertaining legislative branch, funnier television, tea appreciation) and sometimes I wish we hadn’t left the Empire. Though I must admit, there are times when Vermont feels almost like Great Britain’s twin.