Good literature is fundamental to young people’s development. We must not devalue it
Good children’s literature is a serious business. Not serious as in boring or “improving”, but serious in attention and ambition, serious about beauty and wonder, about engaging the brain but also the heart, about sadness and difficulty, but also about silliness and joy. Above all, it is serious about the legitimacy of a child’s world – which is a world away from being child-ish.
Good children’s books, from picture books to 500-page novels, can be seriously hard to write. Mark Haddon published 17 books before The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. His wise and beautiful The Sea of Tranquility took two years and 50 drafts, 50,000 words becoming 500. “Which seems,” he has written, “like a fair trade. If kids like a picture book, they’re going to read it at least 50 times, and their parents are going to have to read it with them. Read anything that often and even minor imperfections start to feel like gravel in the bed.”