29 JANUARY 1960, Page 17

Goblins and Quaker Girls

rtasT, an anthology of children's writing : from Once upon a time there was a little princess . • • , through nurseries, gardens, seashores and farm- Yards to the adult world—`the fat ex-pilot lazily strokes his moustache.' It is an average collection, shunning obscurity or experiment: it shows that many children write better than Enid Blyton, but it rather favours the explicit and conventional. Then, criticism and commentary by adults: and Janes Britton has good material in 'Growing up In writing,' on children's poetry as an honest effort to, come to terms with a complex experience. which even if it fails in communication, 'stops short rather than goes wrong.' William Walsh adds some odd and impressive results from group composition of verse in class, with roots in corn- illunal as well as personal experience. But these aspects of children's writing are not pursued very far; after a friendly sketch, the book turns with What critical attention to what children read. ,i, "hat they read, unlike their writing, is almost vi,h°11Y deplorable; and the strong moral tone of the book comes from the contrast between what children are themselves capable of and what is Purveyed to them by adults. There are points of sociological interest—the disappearance of the school story; and Richard Jay, comparing 1957 with 1940, notes the growing correspondence of taste between grammar school and secondary modern, the collapse of local papers (favourite newspaper reading in 1940, but now out of the Picture) and the rise of the Daily Mirror. BLII after each decline in taste has been noted and most popular forms of children's reading iu,stlY condemned, especially, the 'harmless' ones tike the Biggles stories and the 300 Enid Blytons ts4what then'? Only Stevenson and Walter de la a are are here given serious attention and many and it is disappointing to find that so modern of Janice Dohm's list of recommended irlern books belong to the old-fashioned fan- a",hcal--hobbits and goblins, one notes, are still .Y-product of the academic world—or the old- eashioned homely CA rather unsettled girl dis- covers she wants to be a singer; the background a Quaker girls' school adds interest'). The o`farelt for standards of good writing means, so Playing safe an conservative : it does little, a Ink case, to suggest how to meet children's act imaginative needs. Stevenson and Mark ,wain dealt in their time with a real, frightening cc'Trld and ambiguous human relationships; and filldren, reading them, could do what they most Gant to do—take a step towards growing up. But is hardly and realistic attitude towards experience ch'ardl y found in what we call 'good' writing for pelldren today; and unfortunately the experts- 4o Ps badly frightened by a horror comic—do seem interested enough in bringing it back. ROBERT TAUBMAN