Magic may have gone from the world, but it still resides in children's books
People talk about the rise of fantasy in children’s books relating directly to the increased lack of freedom in the real world. The more society can keep tabs on you – mobile phones or social media – the more children crave a world where they’re allowed to be free and out of contact.
I totally buy this. Books provide that freedom, or at least they allow the reader to experience that freedom from afar. I don’t really know any other medium that can do this.
For a child there’s definitely something to be said for experiencing a world where parents aren’t looking after you, where everything is not plain to see or readily available. And that’s what we children’s writers are trying to do, I think. We’re trying to put the freedom back into a world that’s lost it.
I bought a wood so that our child might grow up to know what it’s like to wander safely, and freely through a wilderness.
The very idea of wilderness, the wild and untamed, really excited me when I was young. There’s a sense of magic in wilderness that you just can’t find in a town or city. And I don’t necessarily mean magic as in Harry Potter. That would be too easy. The magic lies in experiencing things for yourself, discovering things because of what you’ve done, and not looking up the answers to any problems on Google. That magic is often related to not understanding things, and searching for the truth.
For example, there’s that moment when you finally realise what a lyric is to a song, and suddenly the magical aura is gone. It’s not as interesting any more. I’m a solid fan of science and understanding the truth, revealing the magic behind what makes things work, but that’s not to say I want to give my child the answers to everything. That would be daft. I want her to experience the magic in the world, and to do that she needs to be allowed to feel free.
And that’s the strength of children’s books, and the power that we have as children’s writers and illustrators. We are allowed to create a wilderness for children to play in, to imagine themselves in, away from the confines of the enclosed modern world that provides all the answers.
We have a duty to provide beautiful worlds where inquisitive imaginations can grow and go crazy, and we also have a duty to allow kids to feel scared, to feel brave enough to turn the page and face their fears on their own.
The wilderness will make strong minds and strong characters out of children, and I for one applaud children’s books for keeping it alive.