Hi friends 👋🏻 September marks my 10 year blogging anniversary and I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting. Originally I planned to make a post about how blogging has changed in ten years, but that post ended up really boring so I want to talk about books I read as a child that I think have aged like milk.
I was a child at the turn of the millennium but most of the books that I read were much older. If you can name any classic British children’s author from the 20th century, I probably read their books. When I was little, I didn’t think much about the content of these books because I didn’t know any better, but looking back has made me wince a little bit and now I’m wondering why I liked them in the first place.
The obvious disclaimer is that this is just my opinion. There are people on the internet who get very defensive when you say that certain author’s books haven’t aged well and I’m never in the mood to argue with those people.
ENID BLYTON’S SHORT STORIES
Enid Blyton can be a bit of a hot button author in British bibliophile spaces so I’ll try to tread as lightly as I can to not draw out her fiercest defenders (who probably haven’t read a book since they were children but that’s none of my business). I had four books that were Enid Blyton short story collections when I was a child and while I loved them then, I cringe a little when I look back at them.
The best way I can describe Blyton’s stories without opening the whole can of worms about how they were racist and sexist at times is to say that they are kind of authoritarian and very upper-middle class. In those collections, there were fantasy stories about toys coming to life but there were also more contemporary stories which can be summed up as “spoilt rich kid misbehaves, receives a bizarre punishment, and learns their lesson”. One I remember was a little girl not being allowed to do anything outside of the house by her aunt as a punishment and another was one where a boy literally got treated like a dog by his father. And by that I mean he had to eat out of a dog bowl for dinner.
Things like that just would not fly today, and they weren’t okay when I was a kid in the late 90s and early 2000s. “Don’t misbehave” is a moral that appears in most stories for children, but the threats of being beaten, treated like a dog, or being locked in the house are just shocking. They’re definitely a product of their times and I can see why they’re re-edited so many times for modern audiences.
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY BY ROALD DAHL
Roald Dahl is another beloved British author who has a lot of adult “fans” who get very upset when you criticise his works, so I’ll have to tread lightly here too.
The children in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who aren’t Charlie are physical manifestations of everything Dahl hated: fatness, spoilt children, chewing gum, and television. Television and chewing gum I can understand because this book was written in the 1960s, and spoilt children are a result of bad parenting. But the fatphobia in this book is just downright cruel.
I didn’t know that the Oompa-Loompas were originally an African Pygmy tribe because Dahl rewrote them to be a fantasy species, but I’m not surprised that it was changed. Also, they work for chocolate rations, which feels like slave labour to me. Maybe it isn’t, but it doesn’t sit right with me.
There are also Dahl’s anti-Semitic views that crop up in his other works that are extremely uncomfortable, but I’m not Jewish and only know about his views on Israel so I can’t really comment on them but it does make looking back at his books sour.
THE RAILWAY SERIES BY REV. W. AWDRY
I’m cheating a little here because although I watched the original Thomas the Tank Engine TV series with my brother, I didn’t really read the stories because my brother owned the book of them. The issue I have with them now is kind of the same issue I have with Enid Blyton’s stories: they have some pretty authoritarian undertones.
The cruel punishment aspect of these stories don’t feel as harsh because they’re happening to talking steam engines, but it’s still a little shocking to see the engines be threatened with being scrapped which is kind of a version of capital punishment. Sometimes it feels like the message to take away is “behave yourself and always be useful or else you’ll get thrown away”. And that can be a lot for children to take in when all they wanted was to read a story about a talking steam engine.
That being said, this series isn’t as bad as others because the stories are just a product of its time and can still have morals that hold up to this day. And it’s hugely popular with Autistic people because of how calm the stories are and the original series has helped people with recognising facial expressions so I can’t be too harsh on it.
LOVE LESSONS BY JACQUELINE WILSON
I read this book so many times when I was a kid, but now I don’t know why. This book is about a previously home-schooled girl who falls in love with her art teacher. And the art teacher likes her back.
Kids get crushes on their teachers all the time, but it is not okay for the teacher to return those feelings and act upon them, especially not when the student is fourteen years old. What doesn’t help is that the teacher in this story doesn’t face any consequences for what legally counts as abuse of a minor and the student is instead expelled from school.
This sends the very wrong message that it’s okay for teenagers to make advances on their adult crushes because their crush might like them back. It’s the adult’s job to not accept advances from a child and not the other way around.
WIZARD SCHOOL BOOK #1 BY SOME BIGOTED WOMAN
I don’t need to say the actual names of this book and its author for people to know what I mean. I also don’t need to say why I think the author is a bigot because it has been well documented, so instead, I will be talking about the book itself.
To put it very bluntly: [AUTHOR REDACTED] is not good at writing for children. At all. While her goal with the series was for the reader to grow with the characters, she wrote the first three books in such a patronising manner. Children are not stupid and the worst thing an author can do when writing for any audience is to treat the reader like they are an idiot. I’ve never written for children myself because it’s not something that I want to do, but I do remember that when I was a child I hated reading narratives that treated me like I was an idiot, and the MG Wizard Boy books slip into that territory.
Apart from the writing, the plot of this book feels like the beginning of a TV show. Each chapter feels like a new episode of a TV series that has just got off the ground and is trying to find its footing. New characters are constantly introduced and then disappear only to come back again for three sentences of dialogue. The side characters are so unimportant and forgettable that they may as well not be there.
And the last thing that bugs me to no end, not just with this first book but the rest of the series is the constant fatphobia targeted towards the Dursleys. Yes, they are awful people I get that, but the author just can’t seem to mention Dudley without mentioning how “grotesquely fat” he is. This is something that I saw a lot in books from my childhood, but reading the early books in this series as an adult was aggravating.
talk to me!
What are some books you enjoyed as a child but cringe at now?
Happy 10 years of blogging!
OH MY GOD LOVE LESSONS. I was a huge Jacqueline Wilson fan growing up – I read and re-read her books constantly, especially The Illustrated Mum, The Diamond Girls and Lola Rose – but WOW Love Lessons was something else. It’s actually the last book of hers I read, because I remember coming to the end of it and thinking ‘wtf did I just read?’. I love that Wilson would often tackle subjects that her critics would argue aren’t suitable for children even though they’re what some children go through, but having this teacher receive no punishment whatsoever for pursuing a relationship with one of his students made me feel quite ill when I read it.
I feel the same way as you do about Wilson. It’s important for children to read about subjects that are serious since it teaches them that the world outside of their families is so different, but Love Lessons just had such a terrible message.
I haven’t read most of these (except for your redacted author). It is disappointing when you have beloved childhood authors that you then find out random things that make you unhappy about them. That’s definitely happened with me.
It really is disappointing. To me it feels like a big part of my childhood that made me happy has gone sour.