Tag Archive for Fitzgerald Ruth

Me and My Books: The Grammar Conundrum

grammar
My books and myself? My books and I? Are you finding this difficult to read? And now I’ve started a sentence with ‘and’, which is okay in literary prose isn’t it? Although children are taught that you absolutely mustn’t start a sentence with ‘and’; it’s not deemed to be an acceptable sentence opener.

Seriously though, how much does it bother you? I read a LOT of books. Or a great many books! So many of them contain grammatical errors, particularly when I read them on the kindle, although admittedly many of the ebook errors are typos, which leaves me wondering if the digitisation was just a tad slapdash. Are we making more grammatical errors because our language is evolving and we deem it to be okay to finish a sentence with a preposition, split an infinitive, or use that instead of which, or are we just not taught grammar correctly anymore? Are there less copyeditors (yes, I know it’s fewer) with a good grammatical grounding?

The Super Adventures of Me Pig

Does it matter more if the grammar is correct in children’s books? Some children’s books are supposed to contain grammatical errors. The funniest book in our house at the moment is The Super Amazing Adventures of Me Pig by Emer Stamp. It starts like this:
“Hello.
Me I is Pig. I is 562 sunsets old. Well, I is guessing that is how old I is. I is not brilliant at counting. I got a bit confused around 487.”
The grammar here is not annoying because it’s supposed to be terrible – the author is writing as if he is a rather stupid pig, so the grammar reflects this, and it makes the book funny. The children testers for this book found it hilarious because they knew instinctively that it was grammatically very badly written. However, in order for them to find the style funny, they have to know the correct grammar to start with. But what about if the author is writing from a young child’s point of view, but in the third person narrative voice:
“He did, however, out of the corner of his eye, catch them doing that sarcastic thing they did, where one of them – Barry didn’t like separating TSE into two, as that was kind of recognising that they existed, but if he had to, he would refer to them as Sisterly Entities One and Two – would pretend to write down something he said, as if it was really important. Which of course was their way of saying that it wasn’t important at all. Barry really hated it when they did that.”
The Parent Agency, David Baddiel, illustrated by Jim Field

Heidi

What’s the difference between the book containing grammatical errors or just being badly written? Would a book flow better if the grammar was correct? Take an extract from Heidi by Johanna Spyri. Some might argue that the language is too ‘heavy’ and the style of writing too old-fashioned, and therefore it becomes prohibitive as a modern child needs something lighter. I don’t necessarily agree with that:
“Heidi looked at the jug that was steaming away invitingly, and ran quickly back to the cupboard. At first she could only see a small bowl left on the shelf, but she was not long in perplexity, for a moment later she caught sight of two glasses further back, and without an instant’s loss of time she returned with these and the bowl and put them down on the table.”

Narrative voice should also make a difference. If we can’t excuse David Baddiel for the writing above, would we be more willing to excuse it if he had written the book in the first person instead of the third person? The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is acceptable because it’s written in a colloquial way in the narrative first person.
“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.”
However, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is as much about accent and social commentary as it is about grammar. Do we always need to be grammatically incorrect to talk in a child’s voice? The following books all use grammar incorrectly for effect – to create the child’s personality and they’re all in the first person. Are the grammar mistakes immediately apparent to the average child?

Emily Sparkes

“This is completely a bad start and I am just thinking I need to change the subject quick because she is on an ‘eco-roll’ when it is too late and she says the terrible words.”
Emily Sparkes and the Friendship Fiasco by Ruth Fitzgerald

Clarice Bean Spells Trouble

“I go home in a very downcast-ish mood and even my older brother Kurt says, “What’s the matter with you?”
Which is unusual because usually he doesn’t notice other people’s gloom, he is too busy feeling gloom himself.”
Clarice Bean Spells Trouble by Lauren Child
But then surely, if Clarice is quoting her mother, as she does in the next extract, would her mother, as the adult, speak slightly better than she does here:
“When I ask Mum why he’s so cheerful, she says, “He’s just got himself this weekend job at Eggplant and it has really put him in a good mood.” To me, this still sounds like Clarice Bean – or is Clarice not quoting her mother directly, but twisting it from her memory into ‘Clarice speak’. Is bad grammar excused if it’s in speech marks because it’s representative of how we speak, which is often grammatically different from written prose?

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney is American, and so of course a reader should expect Americanisms, but the author also deploys a lack of good grammar for effect – it is a child’s diary after all.
“Us kids have pretty much figured Fregley out by now, but I don’t think the teachers have really caught on yet.”
However, if it’s being an ‘authentic’ kid’s diary – would the spelling all be correct, or should the editor be modifying that too to create ‘personality’? Tricky one, hey? What about apostrophes? They all seem to be correct in the Wimpy Kid books…should they not be? Do your children speak like this? Can readers/writers get inside the head of a youngster without resorting to bad grammar?

I have a child in my house who insists on saying “Me and my friend went swimming” instead of “My friend and I went swimming”. I correct her constantly, which must be ‘super irritating’! However, did she pick this up from reading, or from her other friends? One children’s book, which I read recently, made this one error all the way through, even though the rest of the book was grammatically correct. For effect or just an error? Has our language changed so much from the days of Johanna Spyri that it’s now acceptable for modern literature to have bad grammar littered throughout? Does the expanse of bad grammar in our midst mean that children’s authors have a responsibility to write with even more care for correct grammatical usage to teach our children what’s right in the first place? If our children pick up their language tools from reading, at what point do we think its okay to break the rules for effect? And one day will they even know the difference?

When does bad grammar become a literary style?

 

By the way, last Thursday I guest-blogged on another site, MG Strikes Back, about the role of animals in middle grade fiction. You can read it here. It mentions some of my recent favourite MG books too.

MG STrikes back

Friendship: Best Friends Forever

“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.” Charlotte’s Web by E B White.

One of the best things children’s books do is serve as a guide for how to get out of scrapes, and behave in certain situations – they can help children navigate social behaviours. These three books (all of which are part of a series – a big draw for children), depict female characters with whom young girls can identify, and familiar situations in which they may find themselves, all crafted with a touch of humour.

Emily Sparkes

Emily Sparkes and the Friendship Fiasco by Ruth Fitzgerald
The first in a brand new series, Emily Sparkes is a sparkling new addition to children’s literature. She bubbles with witty observations on her friends, her family and teachers, and muddles along in her day-to-day quest to survive school, friendships and parental issues. Emily’s life is not out of the ordinary; she goes to school every day, her parents have just had a new baby, and she worries about schoolwork, friendships and being stuck on the bus with Gross-out Gavin. She is an easily identifiable character, with a clear compass for right and wrong and perceived ills, which stands her in good stead with all those around her.
What I find really refreshing about Emily is that she seems to be a ‘middling child’. She’s not bullied, nor a bully, not the most popular nor the least, not the most academic and not the least – the sort of child whom parents feel often gets ignored. In this, Ruth Fitzgerald proves that the ‘unnoticeable’ should be noticed, as Emily’s wit sparkles in every circumstance in which she finds herself. I particularly liked her astute observations on her parents, and I appreciated the cute illustrations – which make it seem as if Emily has decorated her own book with doodles, drawings and stickers. The Friendship Fiasco starts with Emily’s best friend leaving and relocating with her family, and a new girl starting at school, with whom Emily desperately wants to make friends. All is not quite as it seems with new girl Chloe though, and after some misunderstandings are dealt with, Emily realises that maybe her new best friend has been in the classroom all along. A great new character, with some laugh-out-loud scenes. Publishes February 3rd.

Also to be published later this year, Emily Sparkes and the Competition Calamity

Old Friends New Friends

New Friend Old Friends by Julia Jarman
Julia’s series on friendships takes on a slightly different style, as the stories are narrated piecemeal by the friends in the story – first one, then another. There’s an introduction to each character at the beginning to help the reader navigate around who’s who. This works very well and is quite clever, in that the personalities of the girls begin to shine through; the tone shifting slightly between each child, and the reader has the omniscient eye of knowing what all the girls think. It enables the reader to foresee problems and jealousies that will inevitably arise. New Friend Old Friends introduces Shazia from Pakistan, and relates how the group of friends help her to fit in and adjust to life in England. It’s a fun read with realistic characters and situations. The illustrations are animated and accentuate the girls’ differences.

Also available, Make Friends Break Friends, A Friend in Need, and soon to be published, Friends Forever

Pea's Book

Pea’s Book of Best Friends by Susie Day
There’s nothing like an eccentric family in children’s literature. Almost reminiscent of I Capture the Castle, this glorious encounter with the Llewelllyns is highly visual and engrossing. Pea’s Book of Best Friends introduces Pea and her two sisters, Clover and Tinkerbell and describes their move to London. As with the other books here, the quest is on to find a new best friend, as Pea discovers that her old best friend isn’t missing her as much as she thinks. Pea makes a list of qualities she’d like in her new best friend in London, only to realise that people aren’t usually very well suited to lists – they tend to be slightly more complicated. The roundedness of the story is what appealed to me most – as Pea finds out that not only do her sisters also need to make new friends, but so does their Mum. There are some wonderfully funny touches, and it is a very sweet, and yet slightly quirky book, and Susie Day shows great skill in honing in on a girl’s experience of school and family. This is for a slightly older age group than those above – more 8+yrs.

Also available, Pea’s Book of Big Dreams, Pea’s Book of Birthdays, Pea’s Book of Holidays

 

Thank you to LBKids Publishers for providing me with a copy of Emily Sparkes and the Friendship Fiasco.