05 July, 2009

The Observer wags the finger

Vanessa Thorpe glooms-and-dooms about 'the end of children's literature'. She calls TM 'a lurid reworking of Grimm's Snow White and Rose Red fairytale'—I always thought there was more than one Grimm, snrt—and goes on:
Publication of Tender Morsels in this country is leading to renewed calls for a clearer system to let parents know about the nature of the books that their children are reading. Anne Fine, a former children's laureate [and of whom I am a big fan—ML], said: "If you look at online reviews, nearly all the parents think it is quite unsuitable. Many of the children loved the book but among the girls, a lot of them found it frightening or even repulsive."
In which case, according to pretty much all those online reviews, they tend to use their common sense and stop reading, exactly as they should for their own comfort.

I really don't know how much more clearly I could have telegraphed to (a) young readers or (b) parents who had the nous to actually open a book, that there was potentially offensive content in this novel. As Vanessa Thorpe starts off by saying, the word 'slut' is in the first sentence of chapter 1, and the first scene is clearly a sex scene. In addition, David Fickling Books is printing a warning up front. If a reader ploughs through all that and still expects a Disney fairytale, they must be extremely dim.

It amuses me how journos try and wring every ounce of outrage out of a topic. This was never published as a 'children's' book.

Anne Fine goes on:
I have to wonder generally whether a children's publisher does not sometimes have a responsibility to stop and say that although a shocking new book will make money, and even be popular, it does not have what the Americans call 'redeeming social importance'.
I think she should read the actual book (not just the online reviews), and right to the end. I reckon TM is just chock-full of redeeming social importance. It has redeeming social importance coming out its ears—particularly for frightened and repulsed girls.

David Fickling Himself leaps to my baby's defence, and Philip Pullman and Michael Rosen (of both of whom I'm also a huge fan) also weigh in. Go and have a look, and tell me what you think.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say that one of my favourite books growing up, and with that I mean age 12-14 or so, was one that quite beautifully dealt with incest. It was written in a way that only hinted on the awful that happened, just like TM. I later found out that it was the most checked out book in the entire library by young girls, which made me insanely happy and proud. What you're doing is important! Keep it up.

05 July, 2009 21:19  
Blogger Nancy Werlin said...

Anne Fine should be ashamed of herself.

-Nancy Werlin

06 July, 2009 03:24  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Exactly. When kids are freaked out they put the book down. Simple. It's certain adults who seem hellbound on banning books and limiting access and blah blah blah. I wish they would get over themselves.

Justine Larbalestier

06 July, 2009 07:08  
Blogger Among Amid While said...

jumbledwritings: what book was that?

Thanks, Nancy and Justine. And this person.

06 July, 2009 20:31  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Argh, I have tried to remember the title, but I simply can't. But I am Swedish, so chances are that it was a title never published outside of Sweden.

Must try to remember! Damn it.


(I realised I forgot to sign the other comment with my name!)

06 July, 2009 22:12  
Blogger John Green said...

As they say in the video game world: Anne Fine and Vanessa Thorpe, you just just got owned.


p.s. Full points for eloquence and restraint. Whenever I read this kind of crap, all I can ever say is, "Oh my God you are such a fucking idiot shut up shut up shut up shut up."

07 July, 2009 09:45  
Anonymous Eli said...

Interesting. My sympathies, Ms. Lanagan.

1) Have these people ever heard of Deerskin by Robin McKinley? This ground has already been trod upon.

2) Fairy tale does not equal children's lit. See #1.

3) I don't know about elsewhere, but the editorial reviews in U.S. Amazon firmly place the book in the young-adult/teen section. Has no one noticed the segmentation of the youth book market? I'm assuming the cover for "younger" readers isn't designed to be pitched to 6 year olds ...

07 July, 2009 09:52  
Blogger Maree Kimberley said...

On a more positive note Margo, did you see that Tender Morsels was recommended as great YA summer reading by Meg Rosof in a recent Daily Telegraph article? And there have been some positive tweets about it too.

07 July, 2009 12:54  
Blogger Misrule said...

Why why why is anyone calling this a children's book, a book for younger readers?! I do wish The Grauniad would allow comments! And Ms Fine, fine a writer as she is, is totally out of line here. (Not the first time, alas...)

07 July, 2009 15:42  
Blogger Keren David said...

Have also noticed that the Guardian alows comments on the most stupid vapid 'comment' pieces, but nothing to allow discussion and correcton of news stories. Anyway, just wanted to point out that the same paper recently reviewed Melvin Burgess's Nicholas Dane - male rape of a teenager. No big news stories there.
Having said that Margo, you culdn't ask for better publicity!

07 July, 2009 16:09  
Blogger chosha said...

Can you just clarify something? What age group IS the book intended for? Because there are plenty of people here saying 'duh, this is clearly not a children's book and anyone who's read the first page should know that', yet the linked article mentions that the book is being published in two editions, one with a 'mysterious cover portrait picked for a young audience' that is 'likely to draw readers in without giving much information'.

I'm not proposing one way or the other whether kids should read it (I haven't read it yet) but if the material really is that intense (eg a gang rape scene) why is it being directly marketed as a children's book (if indeed it is)?

07 July, 2009 18:12  
Blogger TansyRR said...

Hey Chosha - this is the cover in question. Tender Morsels.

As Margo says in this blog entry, the edition in question is YA (a term misleadingly omitted from the article) which means older teenagers who are ready for more challenging books. I don't think anyone (apart from the Observer and Anne Fine) is suggesting that it would be promoted to ten year olds.

07 July, 2009 19:23  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The book is amazing. Not sure there's much else to be said about it. Amazing books are not always for everyone.

07 July, 2009 21:50  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a lifelong American, I have to say I have never heard the phrase "redeeming social importance." Redeeming social value, yes.

07 July, 2009 23:11  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

God, what I wouldn't have given to find a book that was frightening in the school library when I was a kid.

Jeff Ford

08 July, 2009 03:17  
Blogger Among Amid While said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone. My heart is officially warmed. :)

Apparently the two UK covers were on the teeve during a Michael Rosen interview, which can only be good. (I agree, Keren; it's excellent publicity!)

After you mentioned the tweets, Maree, I went over to Twitter (where I have an account but am very lax about keeping things going) and, yes, it is buzzing a little over there too. *beams* Any kind of buzz is good. Buzz is much better than sinking like a stone.

Anonymous3: Yes, Anne Fine's comments have all the hallmarks of a person taken by surprise, without time for more than a quick Google before the microphone was turned on.

08 July, 2009 08:34  
Blogger Among Amid While said...

Chosha: The book sits right on the border between Young Adult and Adult. In Australia, 'young adult' started off being 15yrs and up, but may have got slightly younger by now, as the US idea of 'young adult' can go as low as 13.

While I was writing it, I knew that it was likely to be marketed to YAs, which is why I took such care to be not too graphic with the sex scenes - the reader can tell that sex is going on, and whether it's good or bad sex, but they have to supply the actual details themselves. Unfortunately, some adult readers have done that so effectively that they think the details are there on the page, which they're not.

The miscarriages I felt freer to describe, because they weren't actually sexual, and I wanted to communicate Liga's confusion about what her body was doing to her - she doesn't even realise that her first miscarriage IS a miscarriage; it's only with the second one that she works out what's going on. So those may be a bit much for some readers. But, as Jeff Ford says, how often is it that you find a book that really shows you the boundaries of what you can bear to look at? (Well, that's different for everyone, I guess, but it's fairly rare for me.)

Anyway, as Tansy says, it's not a children's book, and it's not being marketed as a children's book; it's being marketed to teenagers, and many reviewers (and the YA edition itself, with its printed warning - and with its printed first page full of sex scene!) are pointing it firmly towards the older, or more emotionally mature, reader. The Observer article simply has the wrong end of the stick.

Any book that brings up this age-banding argument is useful, though, so we can shoot the silly idea down in flames - yet again. The world is not so simple that age-banding will solve the problems some parents think it will. And thank goodness it's not.

08 July, 2009 09:05  
Blogger TansyRR said...

Margo - the 'age-banding' thing is absolutely a silly idea. It occurs to me that the closest thing we have to age-banding in children's and YA is the age of the protagonist, as it's such an oft-repeated truism that children won't read books younger than them - so if you stamp your book as being about an eleven year old, chances are only the ten-and-youngers will read it.

Of course that doesn't quite work in the other direction...

But yes I can totally see a stamp on books saying '15+ only' serving mainly to alert the 11-14 year olds where the really GOOD stuff is...

08 July, 2009 10:03  
Blogger Charlotte said...

Anyone who thinks TM was written publisehd to be a "shocking new book [that] will make money" is just ... silly. And hasn't read the book.

I also find much to snarl about viz "the Americans" speaking en masse about redeeming social importance.

I'm not sure exactly what r.s.i. is, but it's pretty clear to those of us who've read the book all the way through that there is redemption, that there is social import, and that it's a darn good book.

12 July, 2009 10:37  
Anonymous Iucounu said...

What I found particularly disingenuous about some of the coverage was that where both UK covers were reproduced there was no mention of which was the YA cover and which the adult cover. You could easily end up thinking the more cheerful silhouette cover was intended for kids.

20 July, 2009 23:56  

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