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Katherine Rundell on the subversive politics of children’s books

A lot of children’s fiction has a surprising politics to it. Despite all our tendencies in Britain toward order and discipline – towards etiquette manuals and school uniforms that make the wearers look like tiny mayoral candidates – our children’s literature is often slyly subversive.

The same is true across much of the world; it was Ursula Le Guin, one of the greatest American children’s writers, who said this: ‘We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.’ Children’s books in the house can be a dangerous thing in hiding: a sword concealed in an umbrella.

Children’s books are specifically written to be read by a section of society without political or economic power. People who have no money, no vote, no control over capital or labour or the institutions of state; who navigate the world in their knowledge of their vulnerability.

And, by the same measure, by people who are not yet preoccupied by the obligations of labour, not yet skilled in forcing their own prejudices onto other people and chewing at their own hearts.

And because at so many times in life, despite what we tell ourselves, adults are powerless too, we as adults must hasten to children’s books to be reminded of what we have left to us, whenever we need to start out all over again.

Katherine RundellWhy You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old And Wise [Waterstones]

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