Is Children’s literature really the ‘Cinderella’ of the publishing world? Do kids read less today than in previous generations? Does it even matter what children read? And has Harry Potter really changed the world?
All these questions and more were discussed at a lively, relaxed Talking Tuesdays session with PEN members and friends this month. Tony ‘Dilly the Dinosaur’ Bradman was well-qualified to lead the session, having clocked up 25 years in the writing for children business. He is also Chair-designate of English PEN’s Readers and Writers, the “Rolls-Royce” of reading development programmes.
25 years ago publishing was a very different world. Tony described a bygone era of robust school libraries, a range of small independent publishers & booksellers and no bookshop chains or book clubs. The dramatic changes of recent years in these areas have brought new pressures to bear on children’s publishing, having a marked effect on what books get sold, what books are published, and therefore what kind of books people write.
According to Bradman, “writers are never happy unless they’ve got something to moan about”. He listed the many threats that over the years had been predicted to kill off children’s literature: the enormous popularity of computer/video games, the internet, the idea of the CD-ROM heralding the ‘death of the book. However, such gloomy forecasts have proved to be unfounded, with more children’s books published every year, and some contemporary children’s authors acquiring stratospheric celebrity status.
The current burst of enthusiasm for children’s literature – in particular the marketeer’s dream of the ‘cross-over’ novel that appeals to children, teenagers and adults alike – has created problems of its own in the industry. Some talk of every publisher looking for the next Harry Potter, with copycat fantasy novels saturating the marketplace. Bradman himself is a strong advocate of the need for greater diversity in children’s literature, and would like to take steps to encourage more writers from all backgrounds to write for children, so infusing the industry, and children’s minds, with a wider range of cultural references than those afforded by those much-loved bastions of the white middle classes Enid Blyton or Lewis Carroll.
Our thanks, as ever, to our speaker Tony Bradman. If you have an idea for a Talking Tuesday, please do email us.
Report by Tanya Andrews
Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/events/reportsonrecentevents/tonybradmanchildrensliterature/