It’s not just for kids.
Generally I’m not a great fan of watching the film/ TV series of a book I’ve read. I don’t like how they miss things out or change parts. I don’t like being told that a character looks nothing like I had them in my head. This hasn’t always been the case, in fact as a child it often went the other way round.
A couple of blogs ago I mentioned a children’s book and it got me thinking; so much of good children’s literature has been adapted for television or for the cinema. Of course as a kid you don’t really realise that some of brilliant things you are watching was a book first. Well I assume that’s the case, I lost touch with children’s television a long long time ago. That’s not to say it doesn’t still hold an important position, I just can’t compare now with what I experienced.
The fact is all those years ago there were so many good adaptions of books on television, and if I enjoyed watching them, as this was before streaming or even (shock!) DVDs, I’d go and get the book. (You didn’t really buy many videos, it was mainly used to tape stuff off the telly which would invariably be taped over later.)
These were the days of CBBC and the broom cupboard (other children’s programming were available… well one other was which was on ITV or “the other side”). Each adaption would generally be six episodes long and you would have to wait the full six weeks to see the whole story… if you missed an episode, well the chances are you would never get to see it again – unless by some chance they repeated it in the next year or so.
Specifically there are two that I think of fondly and I do still have the books on my shelves… well in a box at the moment, but when the shelves come back they will be there.
Firstly in the eighties (Wikipedia tells me it was 1989), there was a very English serial made about a boy who looked at a clock and went back to the Victorian times. This was of course Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. Published in 1958 this won the Carnegie Medal which is a British award for children’s literature. As a TV programme I found it fascinating and as a book unputdownable, even though I remembered the story. The “current” era of the novel is set in the 1950’s (ish – dates are not stated) which was present when the book was written and only just over thirty years before broadcast, which is horrifying as we’re thirty years from broadcast now, going forward in time!
Set in Cambridgeshire and telling the story of a friendship between Tom from the fifties and Hatty, a girl from Victorian times, it’s a beautifully written tale which, although it plays with the concept of time travel, doesn’t feel sci-fi (because it isn’t). Whilst it has intrigue it keeps things simple enough for an adult to understand and complicated enough for a child not to get bored. There have been other adaptions, but I won’t bother with them (I’m sure they are good) the 1980’s one will always be the definitive for me, and of course the book tops that.
“I meant to ask Hatty questions about the garden,’ Tom wrote to Peter, ‘but somehow I forgot.’ He always forgot. In the daytime, in the Kitsons’ flat, he thought only of the garden, and sometimes he wondered about it: where it came from, what it all meant. Then he planned cunning questions to put to Hatty, that she would have to answer fully and without fancy; but each night, when he walked into the garden, he forgot to be a detective, and instead remembered only that he was a boy and this was the garden for a boy and that Hatty was his playmate.”
― Philippa Pearce, Tom’s Midnight Garden
The other one I that I distinctly remember is almost as different as you can get but still be brilliant (although there are some concepts in the two that cross paths). Set in what was then modern day England this was a story that got increasingly bizarre but still managed to keep to a logical and comprehendible story. This really was thinking outside the box and when I discovered it was a book first I was delighted.
I’m talking about Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones. I’ve not actually read anything else by her and I feel I should because not only are the ideas in this book very strange, they are written in a way that doesn’t put you off but makes you want to know more, and, as I’ve said, the logic works. Published in 1984 this was adapted in 1992.
This starts when a boy called Howard discovers that someone called Archer has sent a Goon to collect a tax of words his father has to write. As Howard investigates he discovers that within the real world is another more baffling one, one ran by a group of very odd types. And that’s as much as I’ll say, go and read it to discover exactly what is going on.
“You don’t give hired assassins supper, do you?” Quentin smiled. “No, but when a wolf follows your sleigh, you give it meat.”
― Diana Wynne Jones, Archer’s Goon
I still love both these books and recommend them to parents who want a good read for their children. I was never really aware of the expression YA Fiction until years later and I gather it is doing good things getting teenagers reading. I haven’t read a lot of it as there is just so much other stuff to read, but in what I would refer to as “the classic children’s literature” there is still a wealth for them to discover.
Contrary to what adults would tell me about what television was going to do, because of the two examples I’ve mentioned above and others, I was drawn to reading by it and not pulled away from it.
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