Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Garth Nix

I wrote two linked posts on Garth Nix at:
He is discussed also in a blog I am currently writing.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Michelle Magorian, Just Henry.

Michelle Magorian (born 1947) became famous for the wartime evacuee story Goodnight Mister Tom, her first published book. Here in Just Henry (2008) she sets her story around 1950. It is just at the ending of ration coupons. Austerity appears everywhere - bomb sites still flattened, the family relics of war apparent, with missing fathers, dead fathers, desperate mothers. This is an 'all live happily ever after' story but the detail makes it interesting. I am not retelling the story here, it is for you to read; rather I pick out some issues to contemplate. There is an anti-discrimination theme, with treatment of an illegitimate boy and the son of an alleged deserter dominating the first third of this 700 page book. Henry has his mind poisoned by his Gran (mother of Henry's dead war hero father) who declared herself a dependent invalid at the age of 53, not only adding to Henry's mother's burden, but physically hitting her and Mollie her infant. It is painfully gradually that Henry sees her for what she really is. The heroes of the tale are the new teacher Mr Finch, and the 60 year old writer Mrs Beaumont, who teach the children actively to resist prejudice and develop a can-do attitude to life and relationships. Both adults are rebels, non-compliant, creative, putting good relationships ahead of all else. A historical job of the story lies in the detail on 1950s films and cinema, presented as a source of entertainment visited several times each week.

The children are from the first ROSLA cohort, when school leaving age was raised from 14 to 15. They are in a secondary modern school, although Henry deliberately failed the 11 plus to please his Gran. Grace is dyslexic and has been expelled from 13 schools for idleness and insubordination, Pip is illegitimate, Jefferies whose father is accused of desertion. These become an unlikely group of friends. Secondary modern kids are presented as talented artistically and vocationally. Things work for these children because of cooperation - their careers were what they wished, but only good will made it possible. It is not a meritocracy - jobs went to people who had friends and relations in the business - railway, films, drama and singing, music. The cooperation of this special group of children and adults beat off the horrendous conservatism of society generally, represented by Gran who is actively malicious, the school headteacher who is prejudiced, Grace's absentee parents who think success comes through punishment. The only part of the plot I shall give away is bigoted Gran's discomfort to find her own son to be a deserter and her favorite grandson to be illegitimate.

Similar but different issues about negative views of people leading to prejudice are apparent in each generation. We have to have eyes open for the next threat - whether asylum seekers, Muslims, economic migrants from Eastern Europe, travellers or whatever. Empowering all should be a key to policy, strategy and pedagogy.