And now....for something very serious!
I have my favourite authors and illustrators and this blog will introduce you to one who is a major influence on me as a storyteller. Most of you will knowof his work, Raymond Briggs. His earthy, gritty story telling comes mostly in the form of strip narrative or graphic novel style imagery. He is well known for his books Fungus the Bogeyman (now a popular TV series), The Snowman, and his ever popular Father Christmas which is aired every Christmas in Britain. I fell in love with Briggs' work after reading this particular book, The Tin Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman. It is a slight step to the left of his usual work, not relying on his strip narrative but on full page, powerful illustrations which do not apologise for their blunt and abrupt finger pointing and character portrayal of two political figures while satirising the Falkland War. It is so to the point and brash, it was promptly banned in Great Britain when it was published in 1984.
I have just finished reading the novel 1984, and I find it quite amusing that this book, published in the year that was so gruesomely portrayed in George Orwell's novel, should be banned because the government of the time found it offensive. Because the truth of a horrific war at the hands of their then political leader, Margaret Thatcher, was portrayed so confrontingly by a children's author. Maybe Briggs' story was a victim of the thought police.... or perhaps it was her bosom opening up and pouring out treasures to pay for the war, or even the image of her breasts shooting canons that undid its popularity in England? I'm certain it had nothing to do with the portrayal of soldiers lost, killed or injured and abandoned by their country, hidden shamefully away.
However, the book did well, as one would imagine, because of it's notoriety and so, as a young adult, I read it and, without the knowledge that it was banned elsewhere, I genuinely became enamored with the power of the story and the way Briggs portrayed the event of war to children (& adults!). I learned that picture books were not always for tiny tots nor did they have to have 'happily ever after' endings.
Recently, I showed this book to a group of adult students learning the art of book critiquing. They were unfamiliar with the story and were horrified that such a book for children should exist. It is many years since this war occurred and whilst they had heard of it, there is an attitude that books such as this are not 'safe' or 'appropriate' for children. Obviously, this is not a book directed at toddlers or younger readers and is meant, as are all stories, to be read with discernment and discussion. Adults usually respond differently than children with regard to these debates.
As for Raymond Briggs, he does not hold back on what he obviously felt, and used his art as a platform to express his frustration and anger towards the situation. Usually that is a no-no in literature, but Briggs gets away with it and carries it through with power, portraying a strong message to the reader. If you can move past the barriers that many find in the imagery, and let yourself read through to the point of the story, then this is indeed a powerful book, one that should never go out of print and should be read to all generations, and discussed! What a gift it is to be able to have a voice regarding our history, to make sure it is recorded through eyes other than that of 'Big Brother!'
Thankfully, this book is back in print as it was allowed to be republished after the death of Margaret Thatcher. It might not be a happy point in her legacy, nor a very flattering portrait of her, but it is certainly a powerful and important reminder to us all that war is a blight on our planet and that governments cannot change the truth.
Be brave, seek it out, read it and keep it forever.
The Tin Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman, Raymond Briggs, published by Hamish Hamilton Ltd., ISBN: (HB) 0 241 11362 8, (PB) 0 241 11363 6
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