Class conscious

It has being suggested that we live in a golden age of children's fiction, but one of the pleasures of having young kids is that you can choose their reading matter - class considerations, of course, looming large.

Out of snobbery, I steer my children away from Enid Blyton's Noddy, whom I find to be a money-grubbing petit bourgeois, a determinedly on-the-make cabbie preoccupied with how much he can earn from giving people lifts in his little car. (Although his policy of charging a flat fare of 6d per journey does square with progressive transport ideas.).Being crassly aspirational, Noddy sucks up to patrician individuals of independent means (ie, Big Ears) and entertains towards the pinch-faced goblins of Toytown (the working classes) an unhealthy mixture of fear and hatred. My prejudice against Rupert stories, on the other hand, arises out of snobbery of the inverted sort, for I associate them with the Sunday Express in the days when it was an intellectual tabloid newspaper contemptibly masquerading as a broadsheet.

I also resist buying my kids books that are just too smugly middle-class, and these fall into three categories. First, there are the overly didactic ones, such as the book I came across recently called Katy Meets the Impressionists (that's as in Monet, not Mike Yarwood, of course), which conveyed the subliminal message: force-feed this to your five-year-old daughter and she might turn into Joan Bakewell. Second, there are the excessively PC ones, like the book I once bought featuring a disgustingly right-on bear who went about his household chores with the future of the planet uppermost in his mind: he wouldn't put his clothes in the tumble-dryer, for example, oh no . . . he hung them on the line.

The third type of quintessentially middle-class children's story is the old-fashioned heartily non-PC sort, into which category falls an early 1970s Ladybird book that I've just read to my sons. It concerns some boys, and one girl, who get into a scrape while on holiday, and, at a certain point, all get very hungry . . . Guess who does the cooking? I persited nevertheless, because it had that saving grace of many an otherwise dodgy tome: you wanted to know what happened next.

This article first appeared in the 20 March 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq: yet again, they are lying to us