06 October 2006

Updates to Past Entries

Philip Reeve's A Darkling Plain, the third and last sequel to Mortal Engines, has won the 2006 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. Is it just me, or does Britain have too many children's-book awards to keep track of? There's the Whitbread, the Carnegie, the Kate Greenaway, the Smarties--no, wait, the Smarties changed its name...

M. T. Anderson phoned in an interview about The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One, The Pox Party to Publishers Weekly. Of course, he was in Nepal at the time, so his use of the telephone is understandable.

And to the list of recent children's fantasy books that prominently feature (in this case, start with) a scene of children being sorted, I can add Jeanne DuPrau's City of Ember.

Grown people did their work, and younger people, until they reached the age of twelve, went to school. On the last day of their final year, which was called Assignment Day, they were given jobs to do.

The graduating students occupied Room 8 of the Ember School. On Assignment Day of the year 241, this classroom, usually noisy first thing in the morning, was completely silent. All twenty-four students sat upright and still in the desks they had grown too big for. They were waiting.
Why do such scenes resonate with young readers today? (We know why they don't appear in old fairy tales. "Grunda, you're going to be...a dirt farmer! Hamnet, you're going to be...a dirt farmer! Pepin, you're going to be...a dirt farmer! Anna,...")


Anonymous said...

Not to suggest posts to you or anything, but have you ever noticed the number of fantasy books that have the following scenario:

Child turns 12 and will now have the job they will carry for the rest of their life. Child then discovers the ugly underbelly of his/her otherwise perfect society. Found in -

City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
The Wind Singer by William Nicholson
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Below the Root by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

If the child is a boy, as in The Giver and Below the Root then the job he's been given is extra special. If the child is a girl, as in The Wind Singer and City of Ember, the job requires running around a lot.

I'm sure there are other examples out there. It just seems like an odd genre for Ms. DuPrau to have entered into. NOT to say she did a bad job. It's just... odd.

J. L. Bell said...

It struck me how Lina's job as messenger ("running around a lot" indeed) might reflect some modern stereotypes about girls. She gets to be active, yet her activity (as opposed to the boy Doon's) involves communication and personal relationships rather than machinery.

Of course, it also helps in plotting for a young hero to go into a job that brings access to lots of news—hence Johnny Tremain going to work for a printer.

Americans have long been averse to bring stuck in particular fields or professions, as reflected in comments going back to the Jackson administration and in our one-size-fits-all-or-get-out school systems. So it would make sense for strict job assignments to be the sign of a dystopia in American lit.

But this pattern appears in books from other cultures as well, particularly in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. ("I'm glad I'm a Beta.") I suppose it fits with the modern "Be Yourself" value I've commented about in other works.