Thursday, 19 September 2019

Do "Message Books" often fall on deaf ears? A ReadItTorial

See that lady in the header graphic for this week's #ReadItTorial (yeah I know, we've been a bit slack about writing these of late, but now the new school term is under way it's time to clamber back on that hoss).

Yeah that lady is judging you. She's wagging a finger. She's effectively telling you, via the medium of body language, that what you're doing is wrong, and you need to change your deviant ways before it's too late.

Quite often, with picture books, we feel like this lady is the author - and the author is doing the finger wagging, along with their illustrator, and we're on the recieving end.

There's no doubt that some "message books" (as we've dubbed them just for the purposes of this article) really do lay on their core moral thickly with a trowel.

Sometimes it's like being a kid again and getting to the end of an exciting episode of "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" only to have that wretched perfect-haired twerp Adam of Eternia turn up at the end to spell out the episode's moral, because me, a mere telly watcher, would never have got there on my own.

Falling headlong into the category of "YEAH OK, WE GET IT, WE HEARD YOU THE FIRST TIME" picture book morals we are getting a bit frayed around the edges with:
  • Different can be great!
  • You might not love yourself, but others love you!
  • Friends are fantastic, go get some, no srsly you guys, do that thing!
  • Honestly, don't be a dick. No one likes a dick. See that dick in this story who's all sad at the end of the book? He was a dick so don't be one. 
  • Reading books is great (y'know, you really don't need to preach this one, we got it!)
  • *New Entry* - The planet is buggered. Go and pick that piece of litter up and stop buying LOL dolls or we're all in serious trouble (We'll let this one pass though, as let's face it, it's more than a little bit important, no?) 
Even C's cousins (who are more in the marketable age group for PB texts) do a brilliant eyeroll every time a book begins to better the humans reading it. It's quite something to see a 3 and 5 year old already looking world-weary when a PB veers off the path of being a piece of entertaining story into finger wagging territory.

Everyone's favourite type of children's book - Celebrity books (everyone loves them, right? I mean they must do, because publishers still throw ALL THE MONAYES at them) seem to be notoriously guilty of judging us, bless them.

Being famous automatically means you're cleverer than almost anyone else on the planet, and should absolutely tell people who aren't famous how they should behave. It's your moral duty as a celebrity, after all. When you've had smoke blown up your Dartford Tunnel for so long, that smoke has an intoxicating effect - doubly so if you're a "Posho" celebrity who feels that the underclass would not arrive at the conclusion that being a raging dickhole rather than being nice to people will result in superbombad things happening to you.

Most celebrity picture books are underpinned by thick-set morals like the bouncer at the door of a night club.

"Sorry guv, you're not getting in until you change your behaviour, get some friends, be happy in your own skin, realise the very thing you're looking for was right in front of your face all along" or a zillion other messages we secretly wish commissioning editors and publishers would stop treating like the next best thing.

Or are we just being a bit mean here? Perhaps picture books should not exist unless it's to make us all better people, or inspire us to think of things that we might not have arrived at under our own steam.

But parents know if there's one thing that's almost guaranteed to make a kid do the exact opposite of what you're telling them, it's saying that thing along with the wagging finger - and we really wish that picture books would just go back to dishing up fantastic, entertaining and brilliant stories rather than the constant barrage of moral adjustment that seems to be the trend at the mo.