'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Sunday 17 October 2010

Guest Post - Andy Mulligan: Can I Teach Trash to Nine-Year-Olds?

Kids Book Review has been offered a rare glimpse into the leadup to the release of Trash. These guest posts are from Andy Mulligan himself, and so we are delighted to publish them right here. This second post is about what comprises a 'good book' and is in answer to a teacher who asked if she could teach this book to nine-year-olds. See Andy's first post here and third post here.

Hello from the Philippines, where I am bracing myself for the reception of Trash. The big bookstores have taken delivery and are about to put it out on the shelves. And I’m wondering what people look for when they saunter past and think, ‘Hmmm…shall I buy that one?’

 It’s about trash – how depressing!

‘Are there any elves? I want a book with elves or vampires.’

Maybe a quick re-write is in order: ‘Three dumpsite boys discover in the night that they’re growing fangs, and so begins a rollercoaster bloodbath…’

What do you look for, what do I look for? – I look for a good story, and if the story’s no good I give up pretty fast. All that stream-of-consciousness psycho-stuff – it was fine when I was at college, and – yes – Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway was mind-bending, life-changing. But it was still a hard climb up vertical rock and I don’t want to go back there.

Have you ever read the first chapter of John Grisham’s The Client? I defy you to get to the end of page 32 and put it down. I have seen entire class-loads of children addicted to that book, clamouring for their fix. It’s got good child characters – kids who live dangerously and are drawn to the dodgy things in life – and then a crackling plot.

I was asked by a teacher of nine-year-olds the other day if I thought Trash was suitable for that age-group, and first I said ‘yes’, and then I said ‘no’ – and then I said, ‘What kind of nine year-olds are they? What are their parents like and what is the school like? What’s the religious faith? What’s the state of their mental health? – I don’t know!’

What I do know is that most children like reading what they’re not quite ready for. I also wonder if anyone has been seriously harmed by anything they’ve read…because it’s not quite like swallowing a spiky toy or drinking the bleach – you won’t need your stomach pumped after reading Trash, unless you’ve done something very unpredictable with it.

There’s an extraordinary chapter of Brett Easton-Ellis’ American Psycho called ‘Killing Child at Zoo’. Our hero does the unthinkable: he spots a five year old at the zoo and murders him, and the account is so real, so ugly, so scary, so total that you’re shunted to a different place.

I read this to my class of fourteen year-olds recently, and one poor pupil had nightmares, and I ended up explaining myself in the boss’ office and received my letter of warning, and to this day I’m uncertain.

I’m not proud of giving someone nightmares, but on the other hand, that class had an experience of literature many will never forget. They discovered that a good book is beyond television, beyond movies, beyond good food and almost beyond good sex and maybe just about on par with a good rock concert when the band come back on-stage and play ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ or ‘Stagger Lee’ -  a good book lifts you up.

A good book isn’t a diversion from the subway. A good book should give you nightmares, if you’re sensitive enough to have them.

You can read more on Andy here.