December 4, 2013

University of Kent forced to apologise for insulting children’s literature

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Books for kids: don't mess with them

Books for kids: don’t mess with them

The University of Kent has been forced to apologise after it accidentally insulted books written for children on the website for its Creative Writing course.  The Centre of Creative Writing had, up until recently, described its course with a statement that read:

“We love great literature…We are excited by writing that changes the reader, and ultimately – even if it is in a very small way – the world. We love writing that is full of ideas, but that is also playful, funny and affecting. You won’t write mass-market thrillers or children’s fiction on our programmes. You’ll be encouraged to look deep inside yourself for your own truth and your own experiences, and also outside yourself at the contemporary world around you.”

However, a small storm of criticism was hailed at the University after one of its graduates noticed the statement and shared it on Twitter.  It was then picked up and disputed by eminent children’s writers such as Patrick Ness and Micheal Rosen, who tweeted with dry irony:

@GuardianBooks Children’s books are crap because children like them and children are crap. Obvious.

— Michael Rosen (@MichaelRosenYes) December 2, 2013

As the chidlren’s writer SF Said argued in the Guardian:

…by every criterion listed, children’s fiction is entirely capable of being great literature. Indeed, if you’re looking for writing that changes the reader and the world, there may be no better form…

The books I read as a child shaped my deepest beliefs. When I was at university, my friends and I were thrilled to discover that our childhood favourites seemed even more powerful than we remembered. This was true of classic authors such as George MacDonald, Rudyard Kipling, E Nesbit and Tove Jansson; or 1960s writers like Alan Garner, Susan Cooper, Peter Dickinson and Ursula Le Guin.

Initially the University of Kent reacted with a jovial flippancy that was not well received, tweeting:

@RichardHCooper @ElenCaldecott @philipreeve1 @FletcherMoss Sorry for slow response. We were writing adult novels. To answer your question…

— UniKentCW (@UniKentWriting) November 28, 2013

But when the anger didn’t die down, the Writing Centre was forced to issue a more sober statement, again via Twitter:

“We’d be idiots to dismiss children’s fiction as a genre. We love it. We read it. We just don’t write it or teach it. Many courses do but we don’t have that expertise. I think the reason that the text on the website so offended was that it gave the impression that we saw Children’s Lit as somehow inferior to adult. We don’t, and we’re sorry. The text has been changed, humble pie eaten.”

Penitent, the Centre is now taking recommendations for the best of children’s literature. The offending sentence has been changed to the non-specific: “You will find at Kent a place where – with a focus on leading contemporary authors and poets – you will immerse yourself in literature that challenges and inspires.” The mass-market thriller community have yet to comment.

 

Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.

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