Sunday, October 07, 2007

Almost caught!

I almost choked on my muesli this morning as I watched the BBC news. There was Bill Turnbull interviewing a child psychologist and an articulate mother about a campaign by The Happy Endings Foundation to have 'bad' books banned from schools and libraries. There was a serious discussion about the value of exposing children to 'real life' situations and the dangers of wrapping the little darlings in cotton wool.

I rushed to find out more about the Happy Endings Foundation and discovered this on the Norwich Evening News website:

A crusading mother-of-three has made it her mission to ensure children grow up hearing of only the good things in life. Norwich woman Clare Hughes is spearheading the eastern arm of a new national campaign to put a stop to children's books that don't have a happy ending.The 42-year-old has been appointed head of the Happy Endings Foundation's East of England Cheering Committee, which urges parents to only let their children read books with happy endings.
The group was set up after its founder, Adrienne Small, read the first book in the series A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket to her daughter. She said the books caused her daughter to take a more negative approach to life, which only got worse when she subsequently read all 13 books in the series.
Mrs Hughes, whose children are 13, 12 and nine, said: “I've seen the way my children respond to news that goes on in real life, whether that be the disappearance of a child, like Madeleine McCann, or bombings, and that gives them enough nightmares.“Books should give them a sense of good triumphing over evil and let them be rest assured that the goodies will come out on top.”“It's about encouraging children to read books with positive values. Look at Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, there are some unpleasant characters, but Charlie wins out in the end. That's the type of book we support.”

The most worrying aspect of the campaign appeared to be this:

As part of the campaign, letters have been sent out to school libraries
asking them to remove Lemony Snicket books from the shelves and HEF are holding a number of activities, such as Bad Book Bonfires, where they are encouraging people on Guy Fawkes's Night to make their bonfires from “bad books”. Other reads on their “bad book” list include Villette by Charlotte Bronte, The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jeah Rhys, The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson and Shockheaded Peter by Heinrich Hoffman.

Fortunately, before my rage led me into further folly, I discovered something the BBC researchers had failed to uncover - the whole thing was a hoax! The small print at the bottom of the Foundation's web page reads:

“Disclaimer: Most characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living, dead, or half dead, is purely coincidental. None of the non-fictitious people, places or things named in this website were harmed during the creation of the site. We’re not sure if the Loch Ness monster is fictitious or non-fictitious, you decide. We would like to state that some of the books recommended on this site are very good reads, particularly Winnie-the-Pooh. However, we would NOT recommend monster hunting at Loch Ness as a happy day out because a) it rains a lot in north Scotland and b) as previously stated, we don’t know if there is actually a monster to hunt. However, if you like logs then Loch Ness is a fine place to go log hunting.”

And, according to another site I found, the project is the work of the advertising agency which handles the Lemony Snicket books. Well, they got a huge amount of free publicity from the BBC and the national newspapers. The last time the nation was fooled so well was by the Swiss spaghetti harvest on 1st April 1957.


  1. I have just picked my jaw up off the keyboard to type a few comments - I am so glad 1) I didn't hear about it on the BBC as I may have had a few choice words to shout at the TV/Radio 2) that you read the disclaimer... unfortunately the topic is all too believable.

  2. A funny anecdote about sad books. My daughter then about 12 was reading "Black Beauty" to her little brother, aged 5. When I called them for dinner, only my son came down. When we asked where his sister was, he said, "She's upstairs crying about some dumb horse."

    Advertising campaign? I hope this one backfires.

  3. I was nearly taken in, as well, with my blood pressure started to invade territory considered hypertensive.

    But then, I am somewhat conditioned.

    In the US, we do have people quite seriously trying to ban children's books, including, amazingly enough, the entire Harry Potter series.

  4. I'm just back from having lunch with friends who had heard a debate on radio about this and their children were really upset - obviously the BBC had still not heard about the hoax. We are all hoping it will backfire on the advertising agency.

  5. Hey Skipper,

    With the final installment of Harry Potter, I've seen some Christian articles gushing about the series. Seems that they may have changed their minds as of late.

  6. Bret: I suppose Harry Potter ranks with Aslan now as a resurrection figure. I expect to find Harry Potter theology books on the shelves very soon, next to the philosophy of Winnie-the-Pooh section.

  7. I'm always slightly wary of anyone (real or fictitious) described as 'A crusading mother of three/four/five etc' who is trying to ban something. Always reminds me of Victoria Gillick - but that's another story.

    But I do believe, with a passion, that children should read as widely as possible. My childhood was not, to put it mildly, ideal. But I was allowed to read anything and everything I could get my hands on and I did. Sad, happy, fantasy, history, animal stories. poetry - all went into the reading pot. I learned so much and it also kept me happily distracted from what was going on around me at home. And when I became a mother, books, books and more books were right up there with other 'essential childhood experiences' for my daughter.


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