Thursday, 2 July 2015

Is there a stigma attached to being a 'grown up' who loves children's books? A ReadItDaddy Editorial

"So you review children's books then?!"

At a recent work event, we were subjected to a rather ooky piece of audience participation during one of the presentations. We were asked to shuffle over to our 'neighbour' in the auditorium (if there's one thing you'll swiftly learn about IT folk, it's that they always sit as far away from each other as possible in these things!) and tell them "Our heart's desire" and have them talk about theirs. You were given a minute to talk about something. So naturally after I said "My wife" and "My daughter" I started talking about this blog.

Quizzical stares followed, as did the other person edging quietly further and further away from me as I passionately described why our blog existed. The other person mumbled something about "walks in the country" and returned to their seat, for fear that they'd have to converse with this children's book loving 'weirdo' any further.

It's not the first time it's happened and I'm sure those of you who either write, illustrate or read and review children's books, or work in publishing, graphic design or a multitude of other big and proper roles around the children's book publishing industry will have encountered similar situations yourselves.

So what is the 'stigma' attached to being involved in children's books? Is it that people assume that folk involved in children's books are somehow sub-human child-like elven beings who permanently exist in a state of pre-adolescent bliss with a mind and a modus operandi to match?

Some of the most passionate (there I go again with that word passionate but children's book folk really ARE passionate) and professional people I have had the pleasure of meeting through scribbling this blog are folk who live and breathe children's books day in day out. Far from being childish and immature, they are people who strive daily to understand what makes children's minds tick, what works in a children's book (and what doesn't!) and how they can push the children's book publishing industry to even greater heights than it's currently achieving.

I know comics folk who get this a lot too, though comics are seen to be slightly cooler and edgier. Children's books? The assumption is always that they're somehow a doddle, simple - I've even heard the phrase "not a proper job" used which is enough to make a publishing professional want to throw someone headlong into a printing press and stamp on the remains as they're ejected unceremoniously from the other end.

Going back to the original situation that triggered this blog post, I work in one of the most soul-destroying and frustrating industries on the planet. An industry that it is extremely difficult to be passionate about but unfortunately an industry that does at least pay a fairly OK living wage for someone supporting a wife and child. Whenever I meet folk involved in IT I very rarely meet folk who have even a smidgeon of heart-singing soul-lifting joy about what they do. Most IT folk I've met have existed in a finely tuned balance of complete and utter frustration or outright rage because of the things they have to deal with day in, day out.

I'm not assuming for one second that it's all plain sailing in publishing. Deadlines, budgetry considerations, falling sales and bad reviews probably affect folk in publishing in the same way that server crashes, knackered security patches and rubbish OS upgrades affect folk in my line of work.

The stigma thing though, I just don't get it. Taking a cross section I follow and converse with over Twitter and Facebook, most publishing professionals, authors and illustrators are fantastically well educated, extremely knowledgeable about their chosen fields and what's more, they strive to push and extend their own boundaries. The same goes for the book reviewers and bloggers who always look for new and exciting ways to passionately tell you how fantastic children's books are and why you should read to your kids (and read them yourselves too!)

The next time someone pops an eyebrow at you if you mention that you work in children's books, are a children's author or illustrator, or run a children's book blog, pop it back at them and ask them the last time their job gave them unparalleled moments of sheer joy from unwrapping a new book and discovering that it could be the very next book that children are raving about, or the next book selected for a Book Trust's short list, or the next book destined to be something that in generations to come your kids will be passing on to their kids with glowing pride, reminiscing about a time they sat on daddy or mummy's lap reading it or having it read to them in daft voices.

There are so many reasons we keep on keeping on but it's been a genuine pleasure to write ReadItDaddy along with Charlotte for the last 5 years and we'll take all those quizzical expressions on the chin, and keep going until someone tells us to stop!