[DWJ] Attitude

Ika Willis blake at gaudaprime.co.uk
Fri Dec 29 07:34:00 EST 2006

This has all been v interesting to me - thanks!

Melissa wrote:

> Well, it *is* supposed to be a guide to help parents choose books for their
> kids--emphasis on protecting them from bad things.

which, yeah, seems to be key - I just went and had a poke round the
site and it specifically says that books are ranked based on whether
'the contents or attitudes of a book are likely to be objectionable
*to parents*' (my emphasis). Which pretty much nails it, I think. The
thing is that I simultaneously think that (1) a book's attitude *is*
something 'in' the book which *can* be pretty much objectively
described - at least insofar as anything about books can be
objectively described beyond, eg, the names of the characters - and
(2) different readers make wildly different and unpredictable uses of
books, and this site is conflating 'attitude' and 'outcome' in a way
which I guess children's-literature reviewers/critics are perhaps
particularly at risk of doing. (Eg on *His Dark Materials*: 'to
someone whose views are being formed all the time this story will
represent a wholly distorted view of things made to seem very upright
by the fictional but attractive characters who support it.')

I don't feel as worried as Melissa about the lack of explicit
criteria, though, because they seem fairly clear to me from the notes
on the books, especially the ones with 'objectionable' attitudes.

Minnow wrote:

> it generally isn't
> for the pot of message at the end of the rainbow, and if I am preached
> at by the author *too* obviously I discount whatever is being preached
> almost without noticing.  Then I stop reading the book unless it has
> other more interesting things to say.

I'm trying to figure all this out at the moment. Can you (and other
people, if this applies to them) give me some examples of preachy
books? Because I suspect I *might* read for the pot of message - but
then the messages that arrive for me will of course always be
different from the messages that arrive for other people. (Cf the
exchange I had with Farah a few days ago about *Baby Brains*.) So,
say, the Chrestomanci books probably have some of the clearest
messages I've ever come across: the end of *Charmed Life* is made of
joy for me partly because it tells me very clearly some things I
needed/need to know. Or, OMG, that bit in *Eight Days of Luke* where
wossname tells Luke that he doesn't have to be grateful to his
guardians. Or the bit in *Lives of CC* where Christopher realizes that
he works better when he's bumptious. Those bits in DWJ books strike me
as a bit like the spell that Polly's grandmother points out to her in
the Ballad of Tam Lin ('Sticks out, plain as a pikestaff'), and to
some extent that's what I read them for - *Pinhoe Egg* isn't one of my
favourite Chrestomancis overall, but there are a couple of moments in
it which nail something about being a butch* which I've never seen put
into words so well, and I treasure it highly for those. So I'm trying
to figure out whether that sort of thing is different in *kind* from,
say, 'What Katy Did' (which I guess most people would agree was a
preachy book), or just better-*executed*.

*Again, quite probably not a message that most people get from the Cat
stories, so not something you could legislate for.

And just a couple more bits & pieces that I wanted to respond to:

Robyn wrote:

> that's not such a good attitude. On the other side of the coin, the site
> reviles The Chocolate War, which I think is a really interesting book
> about how you deal with conformity. Admittedly, I'd recommend it to
> teenagers, not children, but I think its attitude is fantastic.

which struck me because I hate *The Chocolate War*, though not because
it has an objectionable attitude to Catholicism - mainly because you
seem to be supposed to identify with a character's stubborn refusal to
sign his precious, precious name to something he has no intention of
actually resisting in any meaningful or collective way.

And then Minnow and Deborah, on the publishing vicissitudes of Sally
Watson books:

> |Um... Might it be that whereas there is precious little likelihood of
> |anyone in her teens at the moment having any chance to free slaves and
> |become a pirate (and as for the cross-dressing female pirates, I think
> |very few people get the moral abdabs about women in slacks these days)
> |she might just meet an ellided homosexual?
> Oh, probably.  But still -- it's the arguments with moral
> authority which  are far more fundamental than the window
> dressings, in my opinion.

I know I always get overemotional about this, but of course anyone in
her teens might *be* an elided homosexual. The wholesale erasure of
same-sex desire from the universe in books for children (and young
adults) *is* a fundamental moral issue as far as I'm concerned.

Love, Ika

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