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Burnt Offerings

Burnt Toast#4, 1990

Several months ago (or was it years, don't time fly?) someone wrote in to Doctor Who Monthly and complained that the Doctor Who novels were always being placed in the children's section of bookshops. Thus, he said, he had to scuttle in quickly and hope no-one would recognise him in the kiddies section.

Now the whole argument about Doctor Who being a children's program is well documented, and basically we all know it isn't, that's not what I'm on about here. Instead, this is a defence of the children's section of bookshops.

Put quite simply, some of my favourite books were written for children. I'm not talking about fond memories of Enid Blyton (I missed one Famous Five book, arrrgggh!), but books I've read recently, in the company of Clive Barker, Stephen Donaldson and many others. Take Prisoner of Vampires for example, written by Nancy Garden. Intended for children, but also containing some very powerful scenes and nice literary references, basically a great read.

Then of course there's Susan Cooper's brilliant series, The Dark is Rising, concerned with the fight between the Light and the Dark, and eleven year old Will Stanton's discovery of his own powers as the youngest of the Old Ones. The first and fifth in the series perhaps aren't quite as good, but The Dark is Rising, The Grey King and Greenwitch are all wonderful books. In the same category is Meredith Ann Pierce's The Darkangel, winner of a best Children's book award of 1982. And no wonder, it is the most beautifully Gothic story I've ever read.

And lets not forget Lewis Carroll's delightful Alice books, perhaps today appreciated more by mathematicians and fantasists then the children they were originally intended for.

What constitutes a children's book? A general lack of sex, violence and naughty words, heroes under the age of fifteen or so, perhaps simpler language used in their writing. There's nothing in there that says they can't be brilliant.

So next time you feel like scuttling furtively into the kiddies section of your favourite bookshop, hold your head up and look round. Doctor Who books are in good company.


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