We enjoy a bedtime story in our house. We tend not to over-think our choices. Usually we pick the next unread book in the pile. Right now, we are reading Bugsy Malone. The book was a gift from my mum, no doubt with a nod to my performance in the stage show when I was a teenager. (It was one line only as I recall – the smallest named part in the script. The show wasn’t as bad as you might think, thanks largely to the star quality of the pudgy kid who played Fat Sam, now a chisel jawed actor). I very briefly toyed with a career in the theatre but a pitch to my parents by my drama teacher was quickly dismissed and so the closest I get to a performance is the nightly bedtime story. I make the very most of my moment but I have a very limited range of accents, with most characters sounding a bit “Wallace and Gromit”. Bugsy Malone is a bit of a stretch.
Mostly R enjoys the stories that we read. She particularly likes funny books – we all loved David Walliams’ “The boy in the dress” – but she and I both enjoy Michael Murpurgo books too. The problem for me though is that I have yet to get to the end of one of Michael Murpurgo’s stories without crying at least once. I have read “I believe in Unicorns” at least half a dozen times and been a snivelling mess on every occasion. (Its very difficult to remain in character in this state.) I read Murpurgo’s “Cool” to R a while back. Both F and EB had loved the book. The story is about a boy who is knocked down by a car and finds himself in hospital in a coma (its not actually his saddest book). I thought, wrongly, that she might be interested in a story told from the point of view of a child without a voice. But it upset R and we didn’t finish the book.
Still though, F and EB’s response to this story and to Jacqueline Wilson’s “Sleepovers” (the main character has a profoundly disabled sister) encouraged me to look for other children’s books that might reflect their experience. I found one recommended on a website: “Out of my Mind” by Sharon M Draper. The reviews on Amazon and everywhere else were 5 star (lots of hyperbole about it being a “must read” book). There are lesson plans on the internet. The “award-winning” author had apparently been inspired by the non-verbal child of a friend. I don’t know why I decided to read the story before giving it to the children. I never normally do. But the decision was serendipitous. The central character has a condition that has left her unable to walk or talk but with a photographic memory. Her intelligence goes unnoticed until she gets a new communication device. All good, so far. Against the odds, and a whole lot of prejudice, she makes the school quiz team and is the reason that the team make it through the regional heats and into the national finals. And then, the team sneaks off to the competition and leaves her behind because they are embarrassed to have a disabled child in the team. They don’t win. Book ends. That’s it. THAT’S IT. No consequences. Nothing.
I might be still a little raw, still a bit sensitive but this book also made me cry, only this time they were angry tears. This is a book aimed at children. The adults in the story were appalling; the children in the story were appalling and no-one comes out with any credit at all. Many of the reviews were stressing how important this book is. It’s not. Its a horrible book. And no child of mine is ever going to read it, least of all R.