Navigating by strange stars

Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised) by Henri Rousseau

Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised) by Henri Rousseau

You’re welcome in the Beautiful Jungle – but do expect a few surprises along your way…

This month I went to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park – a place I have always found inspiring. I went to the Old Chapel  – now an exhibition space – and watched Bill Viola’s video art piece The Ascension of Tristan. I found it a moving and immersive experience and afterwards I sat outside on a bench to ponder.


Soon a couple came out, audibly dismissive of the whole thing. They had to have left early as the video last around five minutes – and I had been alone.

I wanted to tell them to take time, to open themselves up to the event: the phrase ‘O taste and see’ came to mind. Using your intellect as a defence might keep you safe and ‘cool’ – but it won’t let art inside you. That goes for anything creative – from Gaudi’s architecture, via Arvo Pärt’s music to YA fiction.

I whooped with delight when I heard that Frances Hardinge had won the Costa Book Prize – and her short speech was a joy. I would encourage anyone to enter the Beautiful Jungle of fiction for younger readers. I would also exhort those who have to be brave, to venture into the Picture Book Glades and the more obscure Ravines of YA. Take your machete and cut a path throiugh the dense undergrowth to uncover Urban Fantasy, or climb up the lianas towards Steampunk Heights.

It’s tricky navigating by strange stars: we all love the familiar. But it is worth the risk.

You have to set prejudices and agendas aside and take the new ecosystem as it comes. Some of it will scare the bejasus out of you: the sheer quality of much writing can be intimidating. Yet only by letting this affect you, rather than being blasé, can it become an exploration – not tourism.


I would not advise anyone to have a mind so open their brains fall out. I would encourage clearing a space for other ways of perceiving. Try them out. Treasure your own deepest understandings – but allow the possibility of others to influence you – or even change your perspective.

That might seem too much to ask of children’s books – but if you leave your grown-up or genre expectations back at base, you might be surprised.

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