Songs of Innocence and Experience: what should today's kids be reading?

Sunday 1 November, 3.45pm until 5.15pm, Lecture Theatre 2

Enter any bookshop today and much professed fears about children and reading dissipate. From Harry Potter to Alex Rider, new writing for children is everywhere. Many have called the 2000s a new ‘Golden Age of Children’s Literature’.

Yet contemporary children’s literature is not an imaginative free-for-all. There is pressure to be relevant to modern children’s lives and this often takes the form of an ethical, as well as imaginative, narrative. From the gritty realism of Melvin Burgess’ Junk to the socially aware alternative world of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses, children’s fiction today often reflects a deeply flawed world. But are ethical concerns in children’s literature today the same as the moral fables of yesterday? Peter Hitchens called Philip Pullman ‘the most dangerous author in Britain’, claiming that Pullman was out to dethrone CS Lewis’ classic Narnia tales and supplant them with others that ‘proclaim the death of God to the young’.

But is Lewis’ 20th century view of Christian morality simply out-of-date for today’s kids, living in a de-facto secular and multicultural society? Are there some children’s books that are so out-of-kilter with today’s society and our moral values, they should be consigned to the dustbin of history? And shouldn’t fiction today help children to deal with current social issues and help them develop as responsible citizens? But does such socially concerned literature spell the death of escapism and imagination in children’s fiction? Isn’t it enough if a book simply entertains a child? And do classic children’s tales of the past have anything to offer our children imaginatively and morally?

Anne Brogan
children's TV producer; co-director, Kindle Entertainment; former controller, Granada Kids

Anthony Horowitz
author and creator, Alex Rider and Power of Five novels; creator and screenwriter, Midsomer Murders, Foyle's War and Collision; journalist; critic

Dr Shirley Dent
communications specialist (currently working with the British Veterinary Association media team); editor,; author, Radical Blake

Produced by
Dr Shirley Dent communications specialist (currently working with the British Veterinary Association media team); editor,; author, Radical Blake
Recommended readings
Maurice Sendak tells parents worried by Wild Things to 'go to hell'

Children's author gives short shrift to concerns that Where the Wild Things Are is too frightening for children

Alison Flood, Guardian, 20 October 2009

Get off of my tuffet, Muffet

I can't lament the demise of nursery rhymes when my three-year-old sings rock'n'roll classics instead.

John Harris, Guardian Comment is free, 15 October 2009

Why more children's books should feature disabled kids

Bullying of disabled people is merely seen as ‘antisocial’. But children’s literature can help to change that.

Tim Rushby-Smith, The Times, 30 September 2009

Are some children's classics unsuitable for kids?

When 'savages' and 'heathens' start appearing, reading the greats my daughter becomes very uncomfortable

Kavitha Rao, Guardian Books blog, 23 July 2009

Jodi Picoult and the Anxious Parent

Picoult’s message is at once cautionary and subverting. As much as her novels underscore the hazards of parental shortcomings, at a certain level they seem to exist to make a mockery of the cherished idea that we ought not to have any.

Ginia Bellafante, New York Times Magazine, 17 June 2009

Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood

By exploring how beauty and horror operate in children's literature, Maria Tatar explores why little children love listening to stories and why older ones get lost in certain books.

Maria Tatar, W. W. Norton & Co., 19 May 2009

Talking Point: Controversial Classics

Tintin in the Congo was condemned by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) for depicting ‘hideous racial prejudice’ and featuring ‘crude racial stereotypes.’ Is this reaction justified? Or is it another example of political correctness gone mad?, 23 September 2008

Age out of the question

Alan Garner celebrates the joy of whimsical reading beyond the brackets of age banding

Alan Garner, The Times, 23 August 2008

No to Age Banding?

Do we want to divide our children so clinically into groups of readers by age or do we want to keep the pages of books open to them as they were to us?

Sam Shipman, The Reader Online, 22 August 2008

Reading between the lines

In laying down ever more stringent guidelines about what fiction should contain, and measuring titles old and new by the morals of the day, we may be worrying too much about what adults want from children’s books, and not enough about what children might need.

Olivia Skinner, Catalyst, 15 May 2007

Session partners