I picked up a children’s DVD recently and had a look at the back. At the bottom, it read ‘Language: None’.
I took a moment.
Okay, it meant no bad language. But to me it said much more and I was immediately brought back to Paddington Bear, the Mr. Men and, of course, Grange Calveley’s wonderful Roobarb.
Children’s entertainment with a love of language.
Grange’s words are lyrics. Richard Briers turned them into song. And children, as we know, love songs. Roger Hargreaves clearly loved language. People often cite the Mr. Men as an influence when they see Fluffy Gardens and they’re not wrong. But it’s not the anthology nature of the Mr. Men that inspired me. Not even the simple look.
It’s the love of language.
It seems to be a rarer thing in children’s television these days. In some shows, language barely has a place. But, perhaps more surprising, it’s not all that common in children’s books either. Books for younger children often seem to rely on a repeated hook. A phrase or simple idea that appears from page to page.
That’s also musical and not a bad thing in itself. And many, without a doubt, are immensely entertaining. But it can sometimes feel like the 2 Unlimited or Vengaboys type music rather than, say, Pink Floyd.
The lyrical story with asides, flowing sentences and beats are harder to find. And unfortunately, many children’s stories I have found that hark back to more traditional forms just aren’t all that good. I often wonder if they ever read them out loud. That is, after all, how a children’s story will be read. Having a parent trip over words or have to pause to make sense of an upcoming line is a bad sign.
Richard Briers never once tripped over Grange Calveley’s words in all our recordings of Roobarb & Custard Too. By writing my stories out loud, I hoped Michael Maloney wouldn’t when performing Fluffy Gardens either. I wasn’t always as successful. I’m not saying it’s easy.
But I love language.
More importantly, I see that children love language too. The next time I pick up a children’s DVD, I would love to look at the back and see written, ‘Language: Beautiful’.