It’s the centenary of the first Just William book this year. I can’t say that the Just William books were ever big favourites of mine in the same way that the Chalet School books, the Little House books or the Sadlers Wells books were, but I went through a phase of reading a whole load of them (aged about 12, I think), and I find Richmal Crompton very interesting because she originally came from Bury.
This was just a half hour programme, but it made some interesting points. Although the first book was published in 1922, William first appeared in 1919 – did the idea of an eternal schoolboy appeal to a world trying to recover from a war which had taken the lives of so many young men, and the physical and or mental health of many more? It also made the point that they were originally aimed at an adult audience, but are now seen as children’s books – I suppose because they’re about children. And credited William with influencing all sorts of books and TV programmes.
It also pointed out that, whereas with most books about gangs of children, the reader’s effectively being invited to join the gang, in these books we’re meant to be watching them from the narrator’s viewpoint, and watching the other characters as well. I hadn’t really thought of that before, but it’s true. And, hooray, there wasn’t one moan during the entire half hour about the books not being “inclusive” (although I am not making any excuses for the infamous book in which the gang play at being Nazis, something which the programme didn’t mention).
But I think the most interesting point made was that a really good children’s book (with apologies to Richmal Crompton, who didn’t intend these to be children’s books) can seem even better when you read it as an adult. Some just seem rather one-dimensional and simplistic, even though you thought they were wonderful when you read them as a primary school kid. But others have you asking more and more questions, and appreciating things which you never thought of before. People wonder why a supposedly intelligent adult reads children’s books. Well, some of them are just that good.