On happy endings

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As a child, I had two favourite kinds of books: those that were funny and those that were sad but had happy endings. My favourite author until I was well into my teens was Jacqueline Wilson, who definitely fell into the second of these categories and I loved her for the gritty reality in which her characters lived. I remember progressing quite suddenly from Pippi Longstocking and Paddington Bear onto The Suitcase Kid and being under the distinct impression that I’d moved onto something that in a wonderful way was only semi-fiction.

In many ways the world that she wrote about was so close to real life that the backdrop wasn’t ‘fictional’ to me. I’ve often tried to pin down how she managed this and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the way that she portrays her characters’ emotions. In The Suitcase Kid, Andy spoke about her parents’ divorce, about feeling left out from her mum’s new family, about problems at school… Her life certainly improved towards the end of the book, but her parents didn’t magically get back together, and as such, there was no traditional happy ending.

Yesterday, Kevin Brooks was awarded the prestigious Carnegie Medal for The Bunker Diary, his fictional account of a boy who is kidnapped and held hostage in a bunker. He said: “There is a school of thought that no matter how dark or difficult a novel is, it should contain at least an element of hope. As readers, children – and teens in particular – don’t need to be cosseted with artificial hope that there will always be a happy ending. They want to be immersed in all aspects of life, not just the easy stuff.”

But what is most interesting is that Brooks also said that he felt he could have got his book published much earlier (It took ten years from when he first started) if he had changed the ending. The only reason why he didn’t was because he felt that it would have been dishonest. Jacqueline Wilson has frequently spoken about her initial difficulties in getting published back in the 1980s due to the difficult subject matter that she handled and the fact that her books didn’t have happy endings. In the three decades that have passed have things changed in this regard? What are your thoughts?

My favourite books without a happy ending:
– Malorie Blackman Noughts and Crosses
– Patrick Ness A Monster Calls
– John Boyne The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
– Jacqueline Wilson The Illustrated Mum
– John Green The Fault in our Stars

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Children’s authors and the world of celebrity

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I recently read a review of Frank Lampard’s latest children’s book ‘Frankie’s Magic Football: Frankie and the World Cup Carnival’ and it got me thinking about other celebrities who have penned bestsellers for kids. When I was small, I had a shelf full of Budgie The Little Helicopter – the series authored by Sarah, Duchess of York. At the time, I had no idea who she was, but my mum came across a Budgie book stand at her local shopping centre and drawn in by a large photo of the duchess, proceeded to buy me the whole collection.

People have widely varying views about Sarah, but you couldn’t argue with the fact that her books sold – and in doing so, they promoted reading for children to people like my mum, who wasn’t the type of parent who would frequently take their child to their local library or bookshop.

A whole string of celebrity books followed Sarah’s – including those by Sting, Kylie and Geri Halliwell to name just a few. Some argue that these works steal shelf-space from worthwhile manuscripts which other unknown authors have spent years working on. It has to be accepted that the lure of celebrity is much more appealing to agents and publishers than taking on a new name in writing.

But when it comes to long term love for a book or an author, the child is the ultimate judge. No matter how famous the author, if their work doesn’t strike the magical note with the small reader, there will be a limit to their success. Personally, I believe that the best children’s writing by non-celebrities will never be pushed out. Yes, new writers may struggle just that bit harder to get onto the scene but agents will never be reliant on celebrity clients alone.

What parents need to watch out for is the quality of the writing. There are some amazing celebrity children’s authors – David Walliams is amongst my favourite – but there are others whose books are likely to be ghost-written and those with dubious English.

So yes, celebrity writers are important in a world in which reading for pleasure amongst children is becoming dangerously unpopular, but parents should be aware of the wider literary world available for their children to discover.

What are your thoughts on celebrity children’s authors?

Some top children’s books written by celebrities:
• Mr. Stink by David Walliams
• Budgie The Little Helicopter by Sarah, Duchess of York
• How Roland Rolls by Jim Carrey
• Mandy by Julie Andrews
• High in the Clouds by Paul McCartney