Slap Happy Larry

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Date: September 4, 2015

School And Children’s Literature

School itself must be so different these days than it was when you were in school. Certainly, having kids helps, but is that ever an issue for you when you’re writing?

I was reading about this phenomenon in television and film writing, which is that the references to school are always at least 20 to 30 years old, because writers are really writing about their own experiences, so these movies are hopelessly outdated. What I’ve been surprised with is that school seems a lot safer and more benign than it was when I was in junior high. You know, for me, junior high was like the Wild West. There must have been one teacher for 35 kids, and we were completely unprotected from the bullies, so the experiences I’m writing about in my book are actually very watered-down from real life experiences.

Jeff Kinney at Mental Floss


Stories set in schools haven’t been the same for me since my teachers’ college year. Dead Poet’s Society ceased to be a story about an inspirational, enthusiastic English teacher and more a demonstration of an egotistical lover of attention who would have served his students better if he had tried a bit of group work. (Jumping around on desks is also considered uncouth in a country where even sitting on desks is a no-no. This was New Zealand.)

I grew annoyed at the number of fictional teachers keeping individual students behind after class to speak to them about various misdemeanours — mostly young men in fake horn-rims who, had they been of truly innocent intent, as we were meant to believe as the audience, would have made sure never, ever to be in a room alone with any student, and that the classroom door was always open.


storybook school

This Little Golden Book depicts the storybook version of kindergarten: the female teacher on the piano, the one black child among a middle class neighbourhood of white, toys lying all around as cosy as the home environment.

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The First And Second Golden Ages of Children’s Literature

We are now in what’s known as The Third Golden Age of Children’s Literature. Naturally the first and second golden ages came before.

What are the main differences between books from the first and second golden ages?


(Note: Some say the first golden age ended at the turn of the century. Marina Warner gives the specific years of 1950-1920.)

  • Great writers would team up with great illustrators
  • Industrial revolution led to advances in printing
  • The growing middle class increased their interest in education
  • Didcatic and moral
  • Reassurance that everything will turn out all right despite huge adversities
  • Duty, self-sacrifice, no complaining
  • Children do rather than think
  • Outside all day with no supervision
  • Proud of their class
  • Patriotic
  • Boys are stronger and bolder than girls
The Water Babies first golden age

It was thought that children could be taught to do the right thing by having the wrong thing done to them. Sort of like hitting a kid for hitting. This is from a bowdlerised version of The Water Babies published originally  1862-63

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