Reviews 2013

Here Comes the Bogeyman: Exploring Contemporary Issues in Writing for Children

Here Comes the Bogeyman: Exploring Contemporary Issues in Writing for Children. Andrew Melrose. London: Routledge, 2011. 138 pages. $33.95 (paperback).

Andrew Melrose’s Here Comes the Bogeyman: Exploring Contemporary Issues in Writing for Children takes on the challenge of examining not only the process of writing for children but also scrutinizing the critical debates pertaining to the culture of childhood. Through this book he attempts to connect critically creative and creatively critical fragments of knowledge gleaned from his years of experience as both a writer and teacher to present a critical and creative investigation of writing and reading for children. Melrose is the Professor of Writing for Children at the University of Winchester and has over 150 film, fiction, non-fiction, research, songs, poems and other publications.

The book is divided into two sections. Part I concentrates on the discourse about the culture of childhood in children’s literature over the past three decades and attempts to put a fresh slant on the dialogue to move the discussions forward with a new creative perspective. Part II explores the implications of writing for children using creatively critical strategies that meld the writing process with the critical discourse discussed in the first section.

Part I consists of 6 chapters. To start, Melrose delves into the rationale for writing his book and states it not a “how to” book but rather a reflection on issues raised and nurturing of ideas to make possible connections. In these chapters, he charts a path through historical theories of Children’s Literature that include many differing points of debate. He examines the terminology “children’s literature” making the well-established point that, unlike ‘women’s literature’, children’s literature is not literature written by children, it is literature written for children. He discusses aspects of children’s literature that make the genre problematic to study critically. Childhood, unlike other human aspects explored in literature such as race, gender, sexuality and class, is a temporary condition. Thus the literature for children is attempting to bridge the gap between the world of the adult and the reality of the child. The differences between adult and child are many and complex and one must be cognizant that all children’s literature, while child centered, is written from and adult construct. He expresses that the desired relationship between the writer and the child is one that is relevant and nurturing.

While in information in Part I was intriguing, I found that it at times my reading became bogged down by extensive use of abstruse vocabulary and lengthy sentences, causing the need to reread for comprehension. In this section he expounds many points of view and relevant theories, which requires the reader to ponder and examine the material written with depth of thought. He brought up many points of debate among theorists, and yet I found little in way of satisfactory conclusions. What is Children’s Literature? What constitutes good writing for children? What elements of storytelling are critical to high-quality writing for children? It was not until I got to part two that I found practical information for someone wishing to write for children.

The five chapters in Part II concentrate on the creative process of writing for children. Melrose explores strategies involved in the writing process and the types of writing and stories that are appropriate for different age groups. He explains the elements of story telling and the role they play in the writing process. A chapter is devoted to exploring the use of language and structure to engage the reader. In my opinion the two most informative and helpful chapters for people involved in writing for children were Chapters Eight and Nine. Chapter Eight explained elements of writing, including story structure, voice, point of view and dialogue, providing examples as he addressed each topic. Chapter Nine he addressed the difference of writing for the middle level child (10 – 15 yr.) and how in his words they are “not short stories, but big stories told short” (95). I found in this chapter, Melrose displayed a passion for the importance of good writing for this age group. He reports it is during this age that many children give up reading for pleasure. He talks about the essential need for authors to understand their readers and dynamically engage them in a way that is relevant to current societal trends.

Part II is written in a more reader friendly manner and gives excellent information needed by writers for children. As Melrose outlines the elements of story, he utilizes examples to illustrate his point. He explores the different roles the writer plays and the importance of the careful development of their craft.

The publisher states this book would be an excellent selection for creative writing and Children’s Literature classes at both the BA and MA level. As a professor for undergraduate students in the United States, I personally would find this book too obscure for my undergraduate students. On the other hand, for my graduate students it would be an excellent tool to foster the skill of writing and support multifaceted discussions on writing for children.

Linda K. McMillan
Kutztown University, USA