I'm a mother of two young children, one six and one six months. I often wish the world was a better, kinder, gentler place for them, but it isn't and as my kids grow up I want to arm them with information about the real world, to encourage them to be honorable, to respect others and above all to learn to make their own choices. My problem is what on earth am I going to let them read by way of entertainment?
While I've been busy at the Edinburgh International Book Festival children's and YA's (Young Adult) fiction has been under siege. It's political correctness gone mad.
Jacqueline Wilson, one of the most prolific writers of young adult and children's books, has had her work censored after one great aunt complains to a supermarket. Apparently this 55 year old great aunt bought the book for great niece and while pre-reading it for her niece -because heaven knows even if it's published for children by a respectable publisher it still might not be good enough - and thank goodness she did because -shock, horror - she found a bad word in it. Over 150,000 thousand copies of this book had already been sold (all those little minds corrupted), but when Great Aunt complained to the Supermarket the Supermarket felt they had to pull the book. And in this day and age when Supermarkets have such an effect on the publishing market (don't get me started on their low, low, low prices that offer such royalties that authors will soon be living in garrets and roasting rats for tea) the publisher must jump - and they changed the book. Can you believe it? The offending word has now been replaced with the word twit - change the vowel in the middle if you want to work out what it was before.The character in the book who utters the bad word is not a nice character; the book doesn't seek to promote bad words or suggest using them is cool. What it is doing is saying yes, kids know bad words too. Personally, I'm a fan of Ms Wilson (who's a Dame btw), who produces work that not only doesn't talk down to young people, but deals with many of the harsher and very real issues that young people have to face in our society today.
Then there's the argument about age-branding. Because you know, when a child turns eight then they can suddenly read all those books for the 8-12s, but not a moment before (on the dot, on their birthday, at the exact time of their birth). Authors on the other hand are arguing that children to learn to read at their own rate and that some children may be more advanced for their age and others less so. If you're a young person for whom reading is a bit of challenge at ten you're not going to be happy about being handed a book that is clearing marked for 7-9 are you? Besides I seem to recall when a certain series about a magical school launched there were an awful lot of very large eight year olds reading it.
But above all children's authors must now be paragons of virtue in their private lives. The Guardian reports on the new contract details for Random House authors. The actual clause reads "If you behave in a way which damages your reputation as a person suitable to work with or be associated with children, and consequently the market for or value of the work is seriously diminished, and we may (at our option) take any of the following actions: Delay publication/ Renegotiate advance/ Terminate the agreement." The Society of Authors have suggested that authors ask for this clause to be removed.