CORALINE and Darker Thoughts

I've been busy writing a lot for work these last few days, but in the evenings I've made sure I had time to sit on the balcony and read. My choice was Neil Gaiman's CORALINE - a great, dark book.

CORALINE taps into the basic fears and desires of children - of being ignored, and of finding adventure / excitement / being special. This last one a double edged sword.

The world of adults is boring, confusing, unpredictable ... and often refuses to give children recognition without condescension. For a children's writer, it can be vitally important to recognise this last point.

Children's writers must tread a fine line. Context and language do have to be adjusted if your book is for children, and not adults. This is a fact. Topics, to a point, are dictated by reading age (some content isn't appropriate, and some will just confuse or mean nothing to kids).

But, any assumptions made by the author - any assumptions at all, about world views or opinions or reactions or what's cool or what's scary or what's difficult or about how the adult world works - can turn sour.

In some ways, it might come down to this: the important thing for authors to get isn't what children don't understand, but what they do understand, but don't agree with. Or, seeing children as clever, thinking, discerning readers with opinions and world-views that aren't wrong, just different, will make you a better writer.

Back to CORALINE. Why do I like it so much? Because for all its darkness and all its light, it makes a much more basic point. Adults and their world can be so wrapped up in itself that they fail to pay attention or listen to children.

Aren't so many good kids books basically about children a) taking things into their own hands when adults won't listen b) finally being listened to because of some action or event.

It's the subversion of who has power, the grown-ups or the kids.

I want my books - I hope they do - to entertain but not patronize. Kids are smart and canny readers, and from that everything else flows


  1. I love kids. Not in the way that I want to be a daddy and have a throng of my own spawn running about me, but I love their spirit... Possibly because feel I still am one... (ponder, ponder)

    Much to write about on this topic!

  2. I completely agree... adults just forget how to be kids sometimes-- and then they scorn kids for being kids!

    Great post!

  3. C, being a kid at heart can be good, but I think having the understanding of the world of an adult (including its dangers and darknesses) and then sieving that down into stories makes good writing. Agreed about the spirit - though a lot of that comes from a basic lack of comprehension that things can go badly or that actions have consequences!

    Randi, thanks! The scorning thing's interesting. Phrases I always want to avoid with kids - 'Grow up!' 'Act your age!' 'Why can't you just be a bit more mature...?' 'Come on now, put DOWN the sword...'

  4. I love Gaiman - especially because he venture in places others wouldn't go (a dark, scary but for children? Yes please!). Coincidently I just recently blogged about a speech he gave to a university graduating class. Incredibly, beautiful speech, just like his writing :)

  5. Hi Katharina - I'll be sure to check it out! Have you seen ZenPencil's poster of his speech? You can see it here - http://zenpencils.com/page/2/ - and it's a really cool way of displaying the words. I know Neil Gaiman himself has given his approval.

  6. Hi Simon, thank you so much for the link, I hadn't seen it before! I loved the 'make good art' part of his speech and the poster is such a fun representation.

    If you are still interested in the video my blog post is here. I embedded the video for easier viewing :)