Do we need our adults dead, and was everything safer in the past?
When I was reading Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale earlier this year, what I was thinking was how nice it is when the adults can remain alive. The children can go about their adventures anyway, because the adults will let them. Or won’t think to worry.
Just like in the past. Perhaps. Debi Gliori was saying in Edinburgh last month that her publisher required her to put her alphabet book in more historical times, just so the two children could go out on their own and have alphabet adventures all over the place.
So is it a modern problem?
In books contemporary with me, characters in boooks did what I did; they went out as and when they felt like it. More or less. In books set in much older times, characters have even more freedom, unless they are enslaved by the need to work for a living.
The question I have is how do today’s readers know? Do they think ‘hey, I could do that’ just because it’s a new book set in the here and now, or do they automatically think that they won’t, because the book is old and they can tell the difference? If I’m ten, do I know that a book is old? Do I look at dates for different editions, and change my behaviour accordingly? Or do I simply decide that climbing down a well seems like a really fun thing to do?
In Debi’s book they were not allowed to go kayaking, even if we pretended it was in the olden days. It had to be a pretend kayak on dry land. (The mind boggles were you to apply this to the Famous Five.)
I’m just back from Sweden, where children are a little freer than British children. I read a manuscript while there, featuring a girl, aged about ten, who goes out on her own when visiting her grandparents (OK, so the parents have been partially removed), and she ends up in the 1600s. She returns safely, but still. Had granny come along she probably would have stayed put in the 21st century.
And there would have been no story.
What year is the cut-off point for unaccompanied children, and is it a moving point? Is it realistic to have a year before which normal children were out alone, and after which they are accompanied at all times?