Post Your Opinion
At Large
by Michael Coren

Children's literature: ah, the little Canadian darlings. They sit in a corner, thumbs in mouths, reading of a time and place far away, of other worlds and mythological figures. Of how Lilly the Lesbian Avenger and Andy the Anarcho-Syndicalist Crusader saved the world, and how Marxist Mouse and Benny the Bunny of Colour ate the White Heterosexual Male Farmer's lettuces. And that touching and noble folk tale of the conservative man who walked for a mile in the kamiks of a blind Inuit boy and thus realized that multiculturalism, the CBC, and bilingualism were worth dying for. What larks.

This is the story of a businessman and former teacher by the name of W. Howard Stuart, who believed that there was a market for traditional, action-packed adventure stories for children and who decided to try his hand. The result was a series of books with titles such as T-Rex and Rex Island. The plots are pure fantasy, the characters are larger than life, and the pace is rapid and gripping. There is an implicit morality in the stories, good wins in the end, and the strong protect the weak. I would think that most children would find these books hard to put down. No preaching, no sex, no obscene language, little genuine violence, and no rhetorical attempt to change lives. Just well-packaged and stylish entertainment. Which is, of course, rather a lot.

W. Howard Stuart thought that such material would go down rather well with Canada's publishers, as did his agent, Jack McClelland. Oh dear sir, how naive can you get? Letters of rejection from publishers became so many and frequent that they could make a book in themselves, and a very funny one at that. They did not object to the writing style, and were impressed by the obvious ability and intelligence of the author, but they found the political and social implications to be objectionable. Nor did they find any racism or sexual stereotypes. It was just that Stuart did not comply with a rigid code of correctness. He had not mentioned homosexuality, homelessness, abusive parents, or the under-privileged; his heroes were white and the bad guys were too negative. One publisher asked the wonderful question about one of the book's villains, "Are there no redeeming features at all to drug dealers?"

Because of ideology, publicly funded publishers were preventing an author from having his writings appear in print and, by extension, stopping children from reading these stories. If the books had not been any good, these publishers might have had some sort of point, or could at least now have a defence. But since the mass of rejections, the author Stuart has become the publisher Stuart. He produces his books privately. A deal has now been signed with the new and enormous Chapters chain of book-stores, and sales for the T-Rex volumes have reached almost 10,000. There is clearly something wrong with this picture.

Stuart has also received myriad letters from his readers and from school librarians. Michelle, 11: "Very interesting and suspenseful. I am really looking forward to reading the sequel." Joey, 12: "I thought T-Rex was one of the most well-written books I have ever read." Dustin, 11: "I loved your book, the way you put so much description in it." Kristen, 13: "I thought your book was great." Kristy, 10: "I really like your book. Daddy told me that you are writing another book and I encourage you to write it. My favourite part is when Nathan found the eggs. I have a brother named Nathan. He isn't as brave as Nathan in the book. But of course he is only 2." Brian Anderson, teacher, age unknown: "Thanks for being a positive part of our year. We enjoyed T-Rex and we are looking forward to many more years of your stories."

But what, of course, do these people know about childhood and literature, wonder and imagination, and the glorious suspension of disbelief?

The attack upon children's writing is not new and is not over. Huckleberry Finn has been condemned and is in some cases expelled from schools because it is, apparently, full of racism. Grimm's Fairy Tales have been under siege for years because they are, according to some, anti-semitic and misogynistic. Best of all, Beatrix Potter is being jettisoned from some British schools because, believe it or not, the stories are too focused on middle-class lifestyles and aspirations. W. Howard Stuart is in good company.

One fascinating and indicative footnote. One of the publishers who rejected W. Howard Stuart added that in his opinion dinosaurs were no longer of any interest to young people. This was shortly before the publication of Jurassic Park. Completely lacking in judgement. As I say, what larks.


Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us