The last two weeks have offered up an array of strange and wonderful things in this city. The streets of London are coloured in with flags from nations across the globe, huge floating rings bob on on the river and good will and cheer emanates from all corners; from even the most naysaying of the naysayers to the grumpiest of tube drivers and commuters alike. The Olympics have truly offered us a ‘carnival’ atmosphere. In the midst of which I am writing a thesis and trying to ignore the cheers of my flat-mates from the next door room. Appropriately one of the themes of said thesis is ‘carnival’ – the idea that in children’s literature the normal structures of power and authority are turned upside down and misrule follows.
Yesterday while I was running home through Green Park I turned my head to notice a policeman, surrounded by a crowd of tourists. He was gently feeding a squirrel that was sitting eagerly on a fence post. My initial reaction was one of disbelief and confusion. Mostly because squirrels are sneaky and should not be trusted, but also because policemen are IN CHARGE and should not be silly or play with wildlife. And this got me thinking – my absolute favourite moments in my most favourite books are moments just like this, when the accepted order of things is disrupted, and when children fight against the prevailing rules and stand up to tyranny and evil. Every day children are faced with injustice whether that’s being told off for something they didn’t do – or being teased for something which isn’t fair, there is rarely an opportunity to stand up for yourself, without getting told to SIT DOWN and BE QUIET and LIFE’S NOT FAIR. It’s so fulfilling, and important therefore to read about a character who fights back – and wins.
Things are inevitably complicated in the theoretical realms of children’s literature, and it’s true that sometimes the misrule is resolved and all is put back in its place – in moments like these the author is fairly and squarely telling the reader that actually the way things are is the way things should be so suck it up. And usually the end result is good and we all go away happy. But what about when the underdog wins?
Do you have a favourite victory against injustice? I have lots, but the one that usually springs to mind is Fred and George Weasley’s emphatic victory over the tyranny of Professor Umbridge after months of her tyranny. Their small victory leads to Professor McGonagall standing up for poor Trewlaney. Even now I feel my heat rising just thinking about that moment of triumph. Umbridge was a miserable woman, and cruel to everybody. But she was still just a teacher – and strangely I felt more empowered reading about this small rebellion where fireworks exploded in a silent examination hall than when Voldemort was eventually overthrown. Maybe that’s because my experience of Dark Lords is somewhat limited, whereas my experiences of teachers being mean, or personal, or unfair is vast and unending.
I’m so excited to have lots of great moments of rebellion coming up in forthcoming Hot Key titles –BOONIE by Richard Masson is my favourite so far. JD the hero sees some really awful things, but he makes a choice to fight back against tyranny in a really powerful and very moving way.
As I came to the end of my run, iTunes selected my absolute favourite tune of the year; ‘Revolting Children’ from MATILDA THE MUSICAL. I’ve spoken at length about how powerful I think this story is – but this particular song should be broadcast as the anthem for all children who feel at all disempowered or helpless or angry. Life is unfair. More so to children than anyone else. And mostly they learn to accept it. But those critical moments in stories when children stand up against tyranny and say ‘enough is enough’ shines a beacon of hope to those kids without any. These stories shout loudly that when it isn’t fair you can do something about it. Children are Revolting. And long may it last.