His masterpiece, Horton Hears a Who? which, coincidentally, acted as a sort of apology to the Japanese for drawing racist cartoons during his time as a war artist, is probably the most joyous, least preachy tale about the importance of equality in the history of fiction.
In recent years, there has been a tendency to become overly earnest when it comes to addressing harder issues – for piquancy to be replaced by a certain degree of political correctness. The lucrative Young Adult market seems to be particularly susceptible in this respect; I wouldn’t want to denigrate the work of Melvyn Burgess or Juno Dawson as it certainly has its place, but it lacks a lightness of touch, and it sometimes feels as if the author has designs on you. There is also, in much young adult fiction, a lot of trivialisation packaged up as something deep and meaningful.
This is particularly frustrating because life for any youngster in 2020 is far from easy. With restrictions on their education, a continuous drip-feed of fake news, and cancel culture tightening its grip (and, most worryingly threatening the very concept of a heterodoxy of ideas), it feels as if the world is getting both smaller and more complex – a recipe for disaster.
There is some great stuff out there (I am thinking of A is for Activist which might sound like some sort of horrendous right-on toolkit, but is actually a joyous, breezy examination of the Big Issues), but I wonder if it needs to be injected more into the mainstream of kids’ culture. By folding in their political satirisation on a weekly basis, the Beano could actually do some genuine good because, at all costs, we must not allow the sharpness of young minds to be blunted. If kids have no satire, then their ability to question important issues will be far harder to achieve.