Award-winning author John Boyne has said publishers are scared to publish challenging children’s books for fear of ‘wokesters’ on social media.
Boyne was speaking to Sean Moncrieff as he publishes the sequel to his international best-selling novel ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.’
The new novel entitled ‘All the Broken Places’ returns to one of the story’s central characters, Gretel Fernsby, nearly eighty years after the events of the first book.
Boyne told Seán that he had a sequel in mind from the moment he finished the first draft of the original novel.
Asked whether he would consider returning to writing children’s books in the future, he said he will when he feels the “publishing industry is open to those kinds of ideas again”.
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He said all six of his books for young readers tackle difficult subjects – including war, sexuality and grief.
“These are serious adult subjects, but children do go through these things earlier than they should,” he said.
“We see in the Ukraine war for example, there are just as many children involved in that war as there is adults, so we have to write those kinds of stories for young people to let them know what’s going on in the world.”
He said young readers want to be challenged but publishers are “nervous about what social media will say” if the back books with dealing with difficult messages.
“I think publishing is generally nervous of those kinds of books now,” he said. “I think there is always the fear that a book will be challenged on social media by sort of, the ‘wokesters,’ who will be looking at, how do you drag something down before it has even had a chance to survive.
“I don’t think that does a great service to readers or to writers. I think, let writers write what they want and let readers buy and read what they want and maybe, everybody else should just stay out of it.”
The Dubliner said the change is the publishing industry has led to writers writing children’s books for adults rather than children themselves.
“Children have to learn that the world is not a perfect place,” he said. “We have to write books for them where they are going to see that problems are going to arise in life.”
When Seán suggested that those who target the word woke are usually of a more right-wing variety, Boyne jokingly described himself as a ‘tree-hugging lefty liberal pinko commie’.
“I’m as left-wing as they come,” he said. “But I think you’re right in that it probably shouldn’t be used in that disparaging way because the initial meaning of the word was actually having a more socially equitable world.”
“That is a good thing obviously and also enhancing voices that had historically been disenfranchised and that is also a good thing, but I think sometimes it reaches a point of moral superiority from people.
“Look, if you followed me around all day and I’m sure if I followed you around all day, we’re going to say something stupid, or something we wish we hadn’t said or wouldn’t want publicly said.
“That’s just life. That’s just part of being human but now I feel that you are jumped on and demonised for the slightest error and look, we’re not perfect. I’m not perfect.”
‘All the Broken Places’ is out today.
You can listen back to John Boyne’s full interview with Sean Moncrieff here: