The Guardian have chucked up a distinctly random Top Ten Heroes of Children’s Books today. Like all Top Tens, it makes you want to jump up and down and go ‘you included HIM and not HER?’, and being a gallery, it doesn’t disclose its selection criteria either. Do we mean ‘best’ or ‘favourite’ when we say Top Ten? Were anti-hero protagonists excluded on principle? What do they mean by ‘hero’ anyway? And what the blithering spoonbenders is George from Dick King-Smith’s George Speaks doing in there?
There’s another glaring fact: the lack of any characters of colour, although I suspect that says more about children’s literature (and not just the classic kind) than anything else. Lucy Coats, however, thinks something else is missing: the gender divide. Do I feel the cold hand of political correctness (surely not in the Grauniad!). Why didn’t they do 10 best Sheroes and 10 best Heroes?
Now, I’m a big fan of nonce-words generally – but not when there’s a perfectly good word already in my dictionary that does the job. (I once read about someone who was trying to sell their fiction quadrilogy. Not a quartet. A quadrilogy. Good luck with that.) But ‘Sheroes’ isn’t replacing a perfectly good word here – because ‘heroine’ isn’t a perfectly good word. The Guardian chose not to divide up their bookish heroes into boys and girls because our fictional heroes are the characters we love, admire, relate to and aspire to be – regardless of whether we share a chromosome or two (or in the case of hairy Mary Plain up there, rather less).
Lucy says I’m misunderstanding her: that’s she’s trying to celebrate ‘the female side of things’. I’m sure she’s sincere (I’ve met Lucy, she’s perfectly lovely) – but that’s not what ‘Sheroes’ means to me. It means taking Lyra Belacqua, and Petrova Fossil, and Pippi Longstocking, and putting them in a different box from proper, real heroes, worthy of the name.
And that matters. Our words matter. I write ‘pink’ books, with bottles of nail polish and love hearts on the covers. My latest title is a romance, all about a teenage girl who is so stricken with panic at being the only one of her friends to be boyfriendless that she invents an imaginary boyfriend – because that’s the real world that our teenage and tweenage readers have to live with. Let’s not make that world any more skewed, destructive or demoralising than it is already. Let’s call Lyra, and Pippi – and even Heidi the imaginary-boyfriend-inventor – heroes, because I don’t ever want a reader of mine to imagine for one second that’s something they could never grow up to be.
Paul Magrs’ The Diary of A Doctor Who Addict, which arrived from this morning. Peter Davison and teenage angst! I’m in heaven.
Creating the world’s first flavour-free chicken balti; wondering if trying to sleep in a tent over Easter is a Very Bad Idea or Attractively Daring; listening to a quite worrying amount of Duran Duran.