I found a reference to this on Margo Lanagan's blog. Anne Fine, a recent Children's Laurate in the UK, answered a question by an audience member on the effect of gritty realism in books on children at a writers' festival. Melvin Burgess, a fellow panellist, describes what happened. Have a look at the Recent Comments section as well. It's interesting.
It all got me thinking about the kind of books I read as a child and whether modern writers have gone too far. You know, I don't think so. I was, as I've said before, a precocious reader often reading well above my age but I was also reading Enid Blyton and similar authors and enjoying them.
When I look back it's no wonder I turned into a speculative fiction writer. These stories were about as divorced from my reality as they could get. As I remember them they were about kids at boarding schools, kids who went off on holiday unsupervised, kids who were able to resolve cases involving criminals and spies without ever getting hurt, kids who were left home alone for a variety of reasons and took care of themselves without anyone interfering. They solved mysteries ranging from who was stealing the chocolate biscuits out of the Upper Sixth's common room to rescuing princesses held captive by evil archdukes and always ended up happily ever after with the making of vast amounts of toffee, the answer to everything.
Whether or not I learned anything else useful I'm certain of one thing - that they didn't teach me how to live in the real world. If anything it left me with a quite unrealistic belief in what the world was like once I had to go out there. When I later became a school librarian a new wave of books was emerging and they started to look at real life, a very good thing in my opinion. There were, and still are, feel good and humourous books available and there should be but that doesn't mean we should ignore the reality of life. Not every child will be mature enough to cope with gritty realism but that is where parents should acknowledge their responsibility in supervising what their children read. Pre-teen reading should be monitored but once you get past that age group they should be being prepared for the world where they will have to make their own way.
What they see depicted on television and on the internet is, in my opinion, far more dangerous than what is written in books in shaping how young folk view their world. At least in books the reader has to apply their imagination but in the media it is all laid out for them. In the last three days television dramas have provided me with - during prime time viewing when most adolescents are watching - seven murders, a kidnapping and a number of violent physical attacks. News programmes have shown me the London 2005 bombings, scenes from the Twin Towers attack, violence in various countries, a suspected murder suicide involving a man and two children, a girl kidnapped and held as a sex slave for 18 years and various other brutalities. There was much more that I don't recall the details of. Children and young adults see all this and no-one raises an eye brow. In fact they are often asked to comment on news stories at school - but read it in a book and the world goes haywire.
Let's be sensible here. Books are not the enemy. They are only a depiction of our society and if we want to protect our children we have to give them the skills to live in that society.