Its time to bring this Christmas blog sequence to an end as the year draws to a close. Choosing which books has not been an easy task. However I have in all cases chosen books that have value for adults as well as children. I've also chosen ones that do not compromise on language and which ask moral questions; the function of children's literature is to teach and prepare as much as it is to entertain.
I have acknowledged my debt to Children's Hour on the BBC Home Service. Most days from five to six pm my sister and I sat in front of a radio like that pictured and allowed our imagination to weave the images around the narration of David Davis and others. The library in the ground floor of the Town Hall (which smelt like a library) was our home from home while my mother attended Council Meetings in the Chamber above. I grew up with books, and even in a world where I have audio books on the iPhone and kindle versions of most new Science Fiction, I still treasure the touch and feel of the physical artefacts that were so much a part of my childhood.
I could have included Harry Potter, but that is only from my Children; Phillip Pullman the same. I almost included the Railway Children, the final scene of which (Daddy Oh my Daddy) always has me in tears. Treasure island, the other novels of Robert Louis Stevenson together with Walter Scott are all there too. Swallows and Amazons deserves a series of posts in its own right. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were early discoveries and I have to confess a secret liking for Biggles but I have grown out of that now.
Then there are the books I have not included. The insipid, stereotypes of the preaching Narnia Chronicles are to be avoided. Roald Dahl with the possible exception of Matilda is sadistic for its owns sake, indulgent rather than intelligent of the wider need of story. Anything by Enid Blyton should be burnt for the sake of literature, only worth redeeming for the many wonderful satires she has inspired. Baba should be bar-b-qued, Peter Pan left in the nursery and Little Women used to induce vomiting in cases of poisoning. Paddington Bear, Beatrix Potter and their ilk have a place, but not on my bookshelves.
Anyone offended yet? Well the worst sinner of all is Disney. Taking teaching stories and reducing them to banality; to be avoided if at all possible. Read the books, listen to the unabridged story tapes, but please; respect the original text and the original illustrations (often much of the delight). Remember the evolutionary purpose of children's stories is to prepare children for their adult lives. To create a sense of moral purpose and virtue which must be retained if we are not to become feral creatures riding the waves of entertainment without learning.
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