You might have noticed that it’s rather quiet here at the moment. This is because the anti-histamines that I take on a daily basis regardless of the time of year have now been joined by the second dose of a different variety which I have to take once the hay-fever season begins. Said season has been late in arriving this year, but last Wednesday I had to admit defeat and as a result I am now dropping off at the most inopportune moments. I haven’t as yet slept through an entire twenty-four hours, which did happen on one memorable occasion, but nevertheless, I am finding it hard to get any sustained reading done and most of my waking time is being spent working my way through Cranford for next Wednesday’s Reading Group. More about that at a later date. However, I simply couldn’t let pass without comment the very welcome news that the new Children’s Laureate is to be Malorie Blackman.
Malorie Blackman is one of those authors whose work I automatically read as soon as it is published regardless of what it might be about or what the critics might have said. She is a courageous writer who is never afraid to tackle a difficult subject just because her audience is generally under the age of fifteen. You are most likely to know her through the Noughts and Crosses sequence in which she explores the tensions in a State where the colour of a person’s skin is recognised in law as a mark of rightful discrimination. I don’t think that even now I have got over the shock that I received around fifty pages in when one simple sentence made me completely rethink not only what was happening in the book, but also what my own position was in respect of colour prejudice. Saying any more would give the game away but if you haven’t read Noughts and Crosses then I can only say “do” and if you’re nor forced to reconsider your attitude towards prejudices of all sorts I shall be surprised.
In terms of the power of the writing, I actually think that the second major novel in the sequence, Knife Edge, is a better book. For part of this novel we are asked to inhabit the mind of one of the major villains of the piece and if you had told me at the outset that I was going to have to spend time living inside Jude’s head I might have considered seriously whether or not I had the strength to read the work. As it was I came away if not exactly sympathising with him, at least feeling that I understood what motivated him and indeed how strong any individual would have had to be to turn from the path of revenge that he takes. It is relatively easy to make an audience empathise with the Romeo and Juliet figures of the first novel, but to bring about that same response for a man who will take a life sooner than thinking is a different matter altogether.
My favourite amongst Blackman’s works, however, is an earlier book, Pig-Heart Boy. Blackman has spoken often of the disappointment she felt as a child that none of the books that she read featured children like her. Cinderella was always white. In many respects Pig-Heart Boy is as controversial as anything she has ever written, certainly at the time when it was published, but that controversy stems from what the book is about and has nothing to do with the fact that the main characters are black. This is a book about animal organ transplants, about whether or not, in the absence of a donor organ from another human, we should be prepared to use a heart from a pig. The fact that Cameron, the youngster who needs a new heart, is black is as totally irrelevant as it would be if he were white. I have read this book with classes of eleven year olds and it has prompted heated debate about both animal rights and the right to demonstrate in support of deeply held views. None of them have ever mentioned the colour of Cameron’s skin. If you want a book to get any reluctant reader involved in both the action and the outcome of the fictional world, this one fits the bill.
So, if you’ve wondered who this new Children’s Laureate is, or if you’ve not even given it a second thought because children’s books are not your ‘thing’, please do take time to read some of her work. I promise you you won’t be disappointed. In fact it’s likely that you will be moved more deeply than you could have ever imagined possible.