Vanessa of Fidra put this post on her blog about the shortlist for the Galaxy Book Awards 2008. The children's section is voted for by children at W H Smith shops, and the shortlist is: Michael Morpurgo's Born to Run, Jacqueline Wilson's Kiss, Francesca Simon's Horrid Henry and the Abominable Snowman and Fiona Watt's That's Not My Penguin. So, no surprises there: but there is another entry on the shortlist and that is Katie Price's Perfect Ponies - the guide to looking after ponies, rather than the stories.
To me (and to Vanessa) that seems an odd inclusion, but I was thinking about it and actually I think it isn't. It's children that have voted for it, after all, and so I've been asking myself why they've gone for this title.
The pony care books I know about (those you can get in mainstream book shops, rather than saddlers) tend to be the Dorling Kindersley style which is absolutely straight down the line realistic, illustrated with photographs from the word go. There is no fiddle faddle about which world you're getting: this is real life.
I don't think that ponies, for the vast majority of children, have very much to do with real life at all: witness Strutz, My Little Pony and their ilk. They are creatures of fantasy, to be treated like dolls. The average urban child has remarkably little contact with the countryside, and for many of them their actual contact with a real horse may be seeing them on television, or out of the car window. So, a book like Katie Price's, with its pink, cartoon presentation, games and so on, is very cleverly playing to this market. You get a touch of the reality many of these children presumably yearn for (the longing of town children for a pony was a very common theme in pony books) but in a format which is comfortable and accessible, yet still has an element of make believe to it. Of course, it also is touched by the pink fairy wand of celebrity and glamour.
It's interesting that it is not KP's pony stories which have got the vote.
Another interesting sideline: these books are carefully branded with a picture of blonde Katie, but she doesn't look like that anymore does she? Will the next book, due out in April 2008 reflect this? It'll say a lot if it doesn't.
I think this shortlist says something very interesting about children today and the way they perceive reality. We hear all the time about how sheltered children are, and how shielded from the everyday realities of getting where you want to go under your own steam, playing out; even experiencing the weather (at my daughter's school, there were horrendous complaints when the children had outdoor playtime once when it was raining - HOW could they possibly be allowed to get wet?)
The choice of Perfect Ponies says to me that all this is hamstringing children: they can't cope with reality, only a cartoon version of it: but they want to. If they wanted to avoid it altogether, they'd have gone for the stories, and they didn't.