When news of S F Said’s campaign to get newspapers to review more children’s books came out at the beginning of last week, I felt pride, rage (at the statistics), and a sense of being part of something bigger. Throughout the ‘Ebook crisis’, the financial crisis and all the other factors which meant we saw vast fluctuations throughout the book publishing industry, children’s fiction and non-fiction were the most steady, often exhibiting some growth. Therefore, even those philistines who believe that children’s fiction is somehow ‘lesser’ will have to agree that it is silly at best not to showcase what has proven to be publishers’ greatest asset.
Not only do myriad high-quality, beautiful books get buried due to lack of visibility, the decision not to give space to children’s book reviews is obviously informed by – and perpetuates – the notion that the child reader is not discerning enough to need ‘good books.’ Obviously, especially with younger readers, the book-buyer tends be an adult. Therefore, the review-reader, naturally, seems to be an adult. This is not necessarily true – how will you know if a 10-year-old won’t read reviews if you don’t give them the chance? – but, significantly, a space dedicated entirely to well-written children’s book reviews would force adults out of their comfort zones. It might even change something which even the most well-intentioned of parents often fall into the trap of: stop giving them an excuse to think of their child as an extension of themselves.
Children (shock, horror!) have their own personalities and their own tastes, meaning that by placing gravity on the books they read – brilliant, innovative, formative books – you are acknowledging their individuality and their right to a critical spirit. Contrariwise, if all – bar 3% – of the space dedicated to reviews in newspapers focuses on ‘adult’ books, not to mention entire publications whose sole mission statement is to review books yet which include no children’s books at all, what is it other than dehumanising? ‘Just’ a children’s book. For ‘just’ a child. As if either of those things is unforgivably, irrecoverably wanting. These things add up and affect the way our children relate to themselves and to their peers.
And if you’re tempted to ask why we need more reviews in newspapers when there are many online – the reviews page is just the bit you skip to get to the crossword, right? – then Charlotte Eyre puts it better than I can, reminding us of the ‘stumble upon’ factor. People seeking out reviews for new children’s books can find thousands online, but the beauty of discovering a book by accident – a process which has been at the heart of the campaign against online booksellers – cannot and should not be replaced.
It has frequently been called the ‘golden age’ of children’s literature, especially after Hardinge’s fantastic win, and online, this is being reflected in full force. There are independent bloggers out there doing what I’m doing but better, and there are official websites – like the Guardian’s brilliant children’s book section – which are committed to making sure children’s books are seen and valued. However, in this online world we live in, print reviews for adults have not lapsed; there is no reason we be content with only online coverage for children, no matter how great.
Newspapers are universal symbols of ‘all that is worth knowing’, if children’s books aren’t represented in them, what does that say about our society’s attitude towards the desires and interests of children?