The Duchess of Sussex’s foray into children’s fiction sounds ghastly, says Dominic Sandbrook in UnHerd. The Bench aims to evoke a “deep sense of warmth, connection and compassion”. Thanks, but I’ll pass. As, I suspect, will most youngsters: “What sane child wants to read about connection and compassion?” It’s clear from the bestselling children’s books that young readers crave rebellion. Take Frank Richards’s Greyfriars series, an outrageous set of boarding-school tales. Between 1910 and 1940 these stories “were the single most popular narrative in all British fiction”. George Orwell and Aneurin Bevan were fans. In fact, when the latter’s coal-miner father banned the books from the house, he bought them anyway and hid them underneath a local bridge.
Just William was the same. Although intended for housewives, Richmal Crompton’s stories of the mischievous 11-year-old William were a hit with children. Between 1919 and 1969, they sold 12 million copies. But characters like William wouldn’t exist these days. They have “too much stoicism and not enough self-pity, too much pluck and not enough diversity”. It’s a shame, because at their best children’s books have real cultural impact. But “given the ultra-woke instincts of most children’s publishers, I suspect they’re sunk for ever”.
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