Chin up, chest out – hold on a minute

I’m a little peeved. There’s a line which I’ve just read in Mary Cadogan’s Chin up chest out Jemima which is rankling with me. I’ll quote it here: “Of course I moved on from DFB, through Elsie Jeanette Oxenham and Elinor Brent-Dyer and others, eventually to adult literature.” (2004:15).

Now I’m genuinely a fan of Cadogan’s work. You’re a brick Angela which she co-authored was fascinating (even though it ripped religion in the Chalet School somewhat ruthlessly apart). I learnt more about Angela Brazil and her work then I ever thought I would. And I’ll be one of the first to read more by Cadogan.

But this sentiment in Chin up chest out Jemima (and I appreciate it’s an isolated sentence) has really suddenly got my goat. I’ve come across a few comments like this recently. Confessions of adult fans. Embarrassed articles on why they still love children’s literature. Comments in otherwise highly excellent academic articles about the inevitability of “moving-on” from children’s literature.

Well, I’m out of the closet and staying out there. I will not be apologetic about being a fan of a genre which I love and want to make my career.

I have a passion for children’s literature – and in particular –  the girl’s school story. I describe it somewhat high-churchily on my CV as a genre specialism. And I hate hate hate that people expect me to view it as a transient phase. Something that I picked up as a child and then let go as I moved on to the more appropriate adult literature.

Nope.

What did happen was that my appreciation of it changed and grew as I learnt to read the nuances of genre fiction. I learnt to see the subtle side-commentary on political, moral and social issues. I re-read The Chalet School in Exile and realised it was one of the bravest and best second world war books that I’d ever ever come across (and it is amazing and destined for a future blog post).

I’ll accept that some of the less brilliant examples of children’s literature are spongily written, and awkwardly put together. But that’s not a unique phenomenon; I’ve read plenty of adult texts which felt as if they’d been written by numbers.Give me a detractor of children’s literature, somebody who says they have nothing to learn from it and I’ll give them Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce which will teach them more about love, loss and heartbreak then they could possibly imagine.

I feel like I need a banner to unfurl at this point and maybe some stirring music from Les Miserables. I love children’s literature and I’m not afraid to say it. Who’s with me?

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