Too much reality?

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.


Vanessa said…
Actually, since I wrote my blog post, I noticed that the short list was voted for by customers of WH Smith who have such a limited range of stock which may explain some of the choices. But kids didn't vote HP7 above Jordan? That does amaze me!
winnie said…
Harry Potter just isn't as popular amongst children as it was. They are put off by the length of the books IMO - the ones who started reading it with books 1-3 have carried on but most of those are not children now - they have grown up.
I'm not surprised by shortlists any more. Especially if they have anything to do with WHS. Even the Carnegie shortlist makes my mind boggle - they are so terribly serious, the books they tend to choose. I read quite a few of the ones which were on last year's Carnegie shortlist and found them grim and disturbing. What happened to reading for fun?
Jane said…
Vanessa - I guess HP7 has been out a while now, so most children have it now.

Winnie - I think the Carnegie has always been a bit more about what librarians think is good for children than what they actually want to read themselves!
Juxtabook said…
Whilst I enjoyed the HP books myself my experience as a teacher ( and we'd only got to book 4 at the point I left teaching) was that many children carried copies of Harry Potter about, produced them for private reading or opted to take them out of the library but very, very few actually read them cover to cover. Book marks never moved from one lesson to anther. the book was just something to be seen with. the pink type club books were actually read. Sadly? Or not? I am not quite sure.
Have to say I think it's a bit worrying. If a kid reads ms Price's book then gets her hands on a pony, she may well take it as gospel. I know I took a lot of things as gospel in pony books and I was a country kid.

Much prefer to see the real, straight down the line pony care books.

After all, if you spend your time with horses you will invariably suffer from blood, muck, sweat, tears - and lots of love and luaghter - at various points!
Jane said…
juxtabook - how very sad that those bookmarks didn't move. I hadn't ever thought of Harry Potter as a fashion item before, but I guess in some eyes it's no different to wearing the right trainers.

If they're reading the pink series, at least they're reading something. We can only hope that the authors commissioned to churn out these series manage to shoehorn some good writing in there.

M&M: you're right, KP readers will take what they read as gospel (and in her defence, I think she's generally OK on the practical side), but I agree it's some way from reality. But it was ever thus: I'm just re-reading Cobbler's Dream, with its description of a couple thinking the horses were "sweet" and having no idea of what they were really like, or had suffered: or indeed caring.

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