As much as I hate to start with a quote from dirty book, I feel that there is no other way. So here goes:

“I sit on the toilet, pushing it all into my hand, and then I paint the walls brown. Brown to wash out the white of my anger. Brown to make them hate me. Oh, how they hate me. Back in my room, I tear off my pyjamas and rip them to shreds….”

Before you go to the homepage to click the Letters button and inform my employer that I am running a porn site under respectable auspices, let me explain–the scatological passage quoted above comes from’a children’s book. The book is “Georgie,” by Malachy Doyle.

Like me embarrassed to quote from “Georgie,” Rachel Johnson nevertheless uses it to great effect in a piece in The Spectator (the English one) headlined “Read Me a Dirty Story, Mummy.” For those of us fortunate enough to have grown up on “The Secret Garden” (no, there was no sex in the garden) “Little Lord Fauntleroy” (he had no whips), or “My Friend Flicka” (today the title might sound vaguely Sapphic for little girl readers?) Johnson’s report that today’s children’s books “are about sex (or ’shagging’) and hard-core social issues,” is disheartening.  

“Georgie,” Johnson writes is “in my ten-year-old daughter’s bedroom, along with the rest of her utterly representative contemporary ‘kid-fic’ or ‘child-lit’ library of Jacqueline Wilsons, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen paperbacks, her Babysitters’ Club collection, [and]her Princess Diaries series.”

Ms. Johnson, of course, is writing for an English audience, but based on the titles I see in the trendy bookstore in my neighborhood, what she has to say applies to American children’s books as well.

Johnson acknowledges that there has always been a place for the dark in children’s books but that something has clearly changed:

“Philip Pullman and Lemony Snicket are dark in the way that C.S. Lewis or Roald Dahl are dark,” she notes, “in an inventive, fantastical, even anarchical way that takes root and sprouts in the child’s imagination. Whereas Doing It and the forthcoming Julie Burchill book, Sugar Rush, which I am told is a joyful exploration of the sunlit teenage world of drugs and lezzies, sound unquestionably grim and narrowly grotty.”