Wednesday, December 14, 2005

And a child shall lead them

Back in January 2003 I quoted a passage from Melanie Phillips on my anthology blog Serendib. Discussing a guide for children whose parents are getting divorced she wrote:

It offered children advice such as: "Try to be honest if they ask you questions; it will help them make better decisions", or "Living with one parent almost always means there will be less money. Be prepared to give up some things."

What the book was actually doing was asking children to be sympathetic, understanding, respectful and polite to their confused, unhappy parents; the sacrifice was going to have to come from the children. They were expected to be more mature.

In the world of divorcing dinosaurs, the children rather than the grown-ups were to be pillars of patience, restraint and good sense.

Now this process has been taken one step further. Yesterday the papers were full of the story of Libby Rees. As the Times told it:

A girl who wrote tips to help children to cope when their parents divorce has won a publishing contract.

Libby Rees, who was nine when she wrote the book, was flown to Scotland with her mother to sign the deal after the company made an offer within 24 hours of receiving the manuscript.

Help, Hope and Happiness includes tips and hints as well as illustrations on the ways she used to cope with the separation of her parents 3½ years ago. Libby, now 10, said last night: "It's very exciting. I couldn't believe it when they said 'yes'. I hope it helps other children."

Her mother, Kathryn Loughnan, 41, who works with special needs children, but does not keep in touch with Libby's father, said the trip to Inverness to sign the book deal had been "surreal".

"Surreal" is the right word.

Some will see this as a wonderful affirmation of children's maturity and abilities. To me it looks like the ultimate abdication of adult authority.

We ask children to help one another because we no longer have any confidence that we adults can do anything for them.


James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...

When I first read the title of this post I thought you were backing someone for Lib Dem leader (possibly going by the name of Donald)!

Anonymous said...

I seek the Liberal line on wronged child authors. Please see
and the 27 Nov 03 minute for the Scottish parliament Cross Party Group on the autistic spectrum, and read these:
Post on the BBC Newround forum made (attemptedly) within the last hour.

This is a forum for children and I as a 37-year-old adult have registered just to open this one topic, because the BBC will be legally in the wrong towards children unless it AUTOMATICALLY allows this topic to be heard. There is nowhere else on the BBC where it is being heard. Any claim to even have a choice against this topic, would mean involvement in crime.

When you report on children who have written books - Libby Rees now, and previously Catherine Webb and Luke Jackson - you must not contribute to cruelty by doing these reports. So you must AUTOMATICALLY also tell Newsround viewers that there exist child authors whose chances to write books are unfairly ruined. The BBC takes part in a crime against those children unless it AUTOMATICALLY want them to have the same public recognition as the luckier children.

I was one of them, and there is proof in old newpapers. When I made the front page of the South Wales Echo in 1980 for passing O-levels at 12, I was also reported on as being a child author with a novel about ghosts in progress. My chance to complete it and become one of these published children, was then ruined by the cruelty of over-pushed school homework taking up all my spare time. This scars the rest of my life.

I have Asperger Syndrome, same as Luke Jackson, and I'm obviously another example of it making us tend to enjoy writing. The child author who first inspired me was Lindsay Brown, who was on Blue Peter in 1978. From her time onwards there appears to be a whole missing generation when child authors were not happening. I have shown you why, in this message. I belong to 2 Cross-Party Groups in the Scottish Parliament, on children and on Asperger Syndrome, and I speak out there about this - including about whether the media fulfil their responsibility to allow children to know the full story of this modern tragedy as is their right.

Maurice Frank.
email to Any Answers this afternoon (not used):
If you care about the child, you have to select according to the child's speciality, not the school's! Taking the example of the child author Libby Rees in the papers at present:

A child with the skill of authorship is entitled to educational choices that allow the child any time for book-writing to be achieved. Not, as the cruelty that happened to me, to be a child author whose chance at writing is destroyed by homework load. I have spoken out about this cruelty to the Citizenship Education drive and Pupil Motivation Initiative in Scotland, and to the parliamentary Cross-Party Group on children.
letter to the Times yesterday:
On the eve of your report on Libby Rees, the Scottish Parliament Cross-Party Group on children, which I belong to, had a meeting on Education For Citizenship. There was general acknowledgement that it includes the importance of reforms to guarantee that children will be listened to, without fear of punishment, whenever their lives are being damaged.

A child who can write a book to help others cope with parental divorce, clearly has the spare time to write a book. Readers will do an enormous wrong to all children if they assume that they are free to write books about all types of painful situation. A child trapped with an irresponsible excess of school homework, can't complete a book, on any subject, because by no choice of their own they don't have the spare time for it. Such a thwartation of child authorship, which happened to me when school age, is a major cruelty and abuse. It is a duty towards repairing child ill-treatment, that wronged child authors shall receive recognition.
letter to the Herald (Scottish paper) Thursday:
A child who can write a book to help others cope with parental divorce, clearly has the spare time to write a book.

Readers will do an enormous wrong to children if they assume that they are all free to write books if they wish to. A child who is mistreated by an overdone burden of school homework, can't write a book on helping others cope, or on anything else, because they don't have the spare time for it. Such a thwartation, which happened to me when school age, is a major cruelty and abuse. It is increased unless such wronged children receive recognition every time a luckier child is reported on.

I am a lay member of the Cross Party Group on children, which on the same day as your report on Libby Rees, had a meeting on Education For Citizenship. There was general acknowledgement that it includes the importance of reforms to guarantee that children will be listened to, without fear of punishment, whenever their lives are being damaged.

Anonymous said...

8 year old internationally recognized author Adora Svitak writes stories, advice on writing for parents, educators and children. Her book Flying Fingers (296 pages) has nine of her stories, many writing tips and interesting conversation about many subjects. Please check her website Her book has been published in the us, soon in China and Korea.

Anonymous said...,,1713123,00.html

Prodigy on a mission to turn children into lovers of literature

She dashes off poems and reads Voltaire in her spare time. Now Adora, eight, is coming to tell British pupils how to write

Anushka Asthana and Matthew Ogborn
Sunday February 19, 2006
The Observer
Adora Svitak loves to read and write. Over the past 18 months she has had a 296-page book published and written 400 short stories and nearly 100 poems. Typing at 80 words a minute, she has produced 370,000 words while reading up to three books a day. The last novel she finished was Voltaire's Candide. Not bad for an eight-year-old.
As if that wasn't enough, the child prodigy has also made it her mission to persuade other youngsters to ditch their computer games and pick up a book or a pen.
'When I was little I thought everyone in the world liked to read, because it was so fun,' said Adora. 'But then I realised that was not exactly true. I want other kids to read and write more all over the world, because it helps them to understand things better.'
Adora tours schools in her native Seattle, demonstrating touch-typing and carrying out PowerPoint presentations on how she learnt to write and why it is fun to read.
She takes in props, such as cuddly toys, to show how things around her inspire story ideas. One of her slides reads: 'If I saw a black cat near my house, I could make up a whole story about a witch and the family she had cursed.'
In June she hopes to come to Britain to convince children here of the joy of reading. But some have questioned whether she will get as warm a welcome as she does in America. Children who have struggled with reading might feel patronised, said one child psychologist.
And few will be able to understand the difficult books that Adora can tackle in a morning. She reads widely, from fiction to history and biography. She was only four when she started writing stories, but her writing really took off when her mother bought her a laptop at six. At seven, her first book, Flying Fingers, a mix of her own fiction and writing tips for others, was published. She already has a deal for her second book, a collection of poetry.
Adora is supported by Joyce, who is an interpreter. But she insists the campaign is Adora's own doing. 'She does this off her own back,' she said. 'She understands what she is doing, but we do encourage and support her.' Their decision to come to the UK comes after figures showed that 52 per cent of five-year-olds failed to reach literacy, language and development targets.
Reading for pleasure is one way to push up achievement, according to Viv Bird, director of Reading is Fundamental, a project run by the National Literacy Trust. She said peer-to-peer encouragement was very important: 'It is fantastic that Adora is getting people thinking about books. I just hope her trip is not met with too much cynicism.'
Bird said it would be good if Adora teamed up with local children who were also writing books.
One British success is keen to meet Adora. Libby Rees, author of Help, Hope and Happiness - a self-help book for children whose parents are divorcing - said: 'It would be fun to meet someone who has done something like me. I really hope I have encouraged children to write.'
Libby, who is 10, is set to host her own Trisha-style chat show later this year. Charles Faulkner, of her publishers, Aultbea Publishing, said it was the honest and positive outlook of children that made their writing unique. 'It is not just their age, but the quality of work is very refreshing,' he added. 'These children are exceptionally bright and ahead of their years in school.'
Adora has the reading age of 20, according to her teachers. But success hasn't gone to her head.
'She is not arrogant at all,' said her writing teacher, Felisa Rogers. 'She is above average ability, but we make sure we tell her that this is because of her hard work.'
Adora the author
Prince Garrick scornfully tossed aside a beautifully gold-embossed leather-bound book. 'Peasant's trash,' he scoffed to the trembling minion who had presented the gift.
'B-beg p-pardon, y-your sup-superior h-highness, I n-never meant no h-harm,' the servant stuttered, stepping back and tripping over an ornately designed china pitcher.'
• Extract from Flying Fingers