Forget about irony, witty writing is all it takes to capture a child’s imagination | Emma Brockes

Forget about irony, witty writing is all it takes to capture a child’s imagination | Emma Brockes

The Guardian

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Timeless books by authors such as Beverly Cleary bring far more joy than those that give a knowing wink to parents

There’s a child who exists only in fiction, specifically modern fiction aimed at six-year-old girls. Her name, invariably, ends in a “y”. Her tone is perky – or “sassy”, as reviewers occasionally describe it – her speech is arch, and her humour is self-referential. “How many minutes is shortly?” muses one such heroine, from a franchise targeted at the American first grader. “Is it one minute or eight minutes or eleven minutes? On account of it’s one minute, I can wait, probably. But eleven minutes would be out of the question.” No six-year-old I know talks like this.

Bad writing ranges across every genre, but bad writing for children, when it falls along uniform lines, can be a test of how childhood itself is perceived. This fact was particularly evident this week, after the death of Beverly Cleary, the beloved American children’s author who died in California at the age of 104. I say “beloved”; her books, which date from the mid-1950s onwards, had no reach in the UK when I was growing up, and coverage of her death in the US was the first time I had heard of her. On a friend’s fervent recommendation, I picked up Beezus and Ramona from the library, and prepared to apply it to my children.

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