Sirius, Albus, Fortius: Children’s Literature in Olympic Shape

by Clementine

So I watched the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, and though I didn’t cry blue, red and white tears like, seemingly, absolutely everyone else on Twitter and Facebook, I was delightfully surprised by the central place occupied by children’s literature in Danny Boyle’s very short introduction to British history and culture. 

If it had taken place in France (no hard feelings), I don’t think they’d have read an extract from the Little Prince, flown a giant inflatable Babar, or restaged the original Beauty and the Beast. They may have played around a little bit with Astérix, but most of the show would probably have been devoted to ‘higher’ forms of Gaulitude. Belgium would have had Tintin, of course, but they’ve got less to choose from.
In Boyle’s wacky pyrotechnical spectacle, Jo Rowling’s lovely reading from Peter Pan leads to an army of Mary Poppinses avadakedavring a gigantic Voldemort. No cameo by Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, Jane Eyre must have declined on grounds of her slight dislike of fire, Mr and Mrs Darcy were enjoying a quiet evening at Pemberley, Oscar Wilde was probably tweeting away wry witticisms about his lost invite. But their little colleagues on the kiddie lit’ shelf got more than their fifteen minutes of fame.

There were also kids everywhere. Kids reading – kids reading real books. With a torch. Under the bed sheets. Disgusting idealisation, Romanticisation and objectification of childhood notwithstanding (concession necessary for the children’s literature critics who may be reading this), it isn’t a point of detail. I don’t know how many millions of children were watching this ceremony, but the image of childness it sold them was one which legitimated, spectacularised, sublimated storytelling. The message was that children’s literature here is so important that it deserves to be feature, at length and at least half-seriously, in a huge, international show mostly watched by adults.

And sponsored by Coca-Cola, of course. But I’ll leave the dark undersides of this ideology of childhood to another blog post, another day.

After we learnt, recently, that no children’s literature bookshop has closed this year, this was just another indication that children’s literature in the UK is in Olympic shape, thank you very much.

originally published on my blog

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