I tell you something I hate: when grown-ups give presents to kids, saying “This is really something for when you’re older…” What this means is: “I’m giving you something totally wrong, because I couldn’t be bothered to think what you like…”
When I was ten, I remember my stepdad gave me, for my birthday, a complete box set of Jane Austen books, handing them over, with a speech about how his gran used to reread Jane Austen throughout her life, and I listened politely, while inside I was boiling, and wanting to shout:
“I am ten! What I actually WANT… is a Table-Tennis bat!”
I like Jane Austen now, of course… I love her elegant style, deceptively deft storytelling, and how the knowing irony of the dialogue makes the characters flash to life. (Reread Northanger Abbey where Catherine is flirting with Tilney.) But to a ten year old – oh I read em! There was nothing else to read! – Jane Austen books seemed to go on for hundreds of years, while people said things like “Lord M has ten thousand a year, and a barouche-landau…” and I wanted to shout: “I would never ever care about Lord M, unless he turned into a vampire…”
It frustrates me still that while I was struggling, aged ten, through the complete works of Jane Austen, I could have been reading The Hobbit, or The Chronicles of Narnia, or Tintin, or something that was actually designed for a ten year old.
Anyway… I am now a grown-up, I do try to be sensitive to what my kids are reading, so I can suggest good stuff.
I am proud that I introduced the Divergent series into the house, and Cassandra Clare, and Michelle Harrisson and Sally Gardener – any many of the writers who’re loved by my eldest girls. My youngest daughter (Iris) is aged nine and not a keen reader, but there’s one series she adores – that we both adore – the Ottoline series by Chris Riddell. Oh, we love them! Chris Riddell is the reigning Children’s Laurate, and his illustration is – I would contend –arguably better than that of Tenniel or Heath Robinson or Arthur Rackham, all of whom it seems to reflect. You don’t read the Ottoline books, so much as you explore them, marvelling at the details, and gasping, sometimes, at the sheer beauty of the design. I also feel enormous love for Chris Riddell, because my daughter Iris felt compelled to send him some fan mail, and Chris Riddell … replied!!! Did he send her a letter, in grown-up language, talking about things she might like when she was older? Of course not! He wrote a simple, jokey letter, and he thanked her for her kindness in writing to him, and he included – just for her – a special cartoon, that he’d drawn.
We love you Chris Riddell! We love you!
Anyway Iris and I were so happy, yesterday, when Iris and I were out and about in Canterbury, to find that his latest Ottoline book has just appeared. Ottoline and the Purple Fox.
We shall be exploring this very evening…