I’ve recently read Katherine Rundell’s ‘Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though you Are So Old and Wise’ and there are so many passages I could quote that completely resonate with me. One of my favourites is:
‘When you read children’s books, you are given the space to read again as a child: to find your way back, back to the time when new discoveries came daily and when the world was colossal, before your imagination was trimmed and neatened, as if it were an optional extra. But imagination is not and never has been optional: it is at the heart of everything…’
My time as a child was one of possibilities and adventure. Stories about magical trees, islands, making campfires and sleeping under the night sky were a large part of my life for years; some secretly enjoyed under my bed covers far too late into the night.
If I think back to the stories that first awakened my love of reading, and later writing, they were all adventure stories.
What appealed to me was the excitement of characters taking part in things too daring for the child version of me. Their experiences were unusual and thrilling to follow, pulling me willingly into their worlds within the first few lines.
Whether Clive King’s, Stig of the Dump, J.M. Barrie’s, Peter Pan or any one of Enid Blyton’s books, I was there in the action from the very first lines of the story.
The other thing that was special about these adventure stories, was that parents hardly ever featured. Those boring conversations about bedtime or homework or writing thank you letters after Christmas were beautifully absent and schoolwork didn’t seem to even exist.
These stories were my escape into a world enjoyed and run by children and their imaginations and I still love them today.
When I’m visiting schools, I’m interested in what children are reading right now and we always have a lively debate about the best stories. The children’s book market has exploded in terms of volume and quality since my early reading days and the choice is now immense.
In any one class I tend to find humour, mysteries, sci-fi, history and always a touch of magic. But there are also a growing number of stories which focus on a character’s internal adventure, with family problems and dramas providing the narrative tension and action. Real issues, current technology and an emphasis on internal struggle result in stories that are are often indistinguishable from real life and that don’t provide the external escape of the traditional adventure story.
When done properly and sensitively, I see huge benefit in these stories helping children to identify with characters who are experiencing the same difficulties as them but the trend seems to be to focus more and more on an internal setting rather than an external one and on a problem that is difficult for a child character to ever solve.
As a writer I love characters who take risks, parents that remain incidental, action, pace and a story where the expected becomes unexpected. These are also the characters I want to create for my books.
Philip Pullman’s, Lyra in his Northern Lights, gives the reader no choice but to follow her through adventure, hardship and resolve in both the most spectacular and ordinary settings.
Escapism is important for all of us and it is usually easier to discover when we look outside of ourselves and our ‘normal’ environment. The outside natural world that we often find in adventure stories can also be a source of rejuvenation, well-being and excitement. Stories set on islands, beaches, in caves or on mountains can be thrilling and, along with new worlds or unusual creatures, encourage children to explore and reach out beyond their existing world. As we all spend larger parts of our life working and studying indoors, the outdoors can act as a sanctuary and reservoir for ideas, imagination and exploration.
Perhaps a focus on the internal world is a current trend and we will, at some point, see an increase in the number of fabulous adventure stories that are published each year but I’d like to see this sooner rather than later. I want to ‘bring back adventure stories’ now and let our children be children without condition.