Former Children’s Laureate and Carnegie Award winning author Anne Fine has written several shorter novels for Barrington Stoke over the years that have been extremely popular in the school library. Her latest offering Into the Bin (and out again) is a cheerful story that enables children to see that what one person may discard as rubbish may be something that another person would treasure. It is perfect for encouraging reusing and recycling.
Mr Frost’s classroom is always in a mess as is the cloakroom. The headteacher wants everywhere tidied up quickly. Now Mr Frost’s class are on a mission to send all the things they don’t need off to a charity shop. They are even including the scratched rubbish bin that keeps falling over. So the children bring things in from home that they no longer need, from books to old toys, they gather all sorts of things together to send away in the bin to the charity shop. However as they examine all the items they discover that what one person doesn’t want might be just the thing someone else has been looking for.
This timely story taps into the enthusiasm and interest shown by many eco-conscious children and would be a valuable prompt for discussion in the classroom. However it is also a jolly read and the various reasons why discarded things may be valued by others are interesting and thought provoking.
This book is part of the Barrington Stoke 4U2Read range and has a dyslexia-friendly layout, typeface and paperstock so that even more readers can enjoy it. It has been edited to a reading age of 7.
The first chapter is available to read on the Barrington Stoke website.
I am delighted to welcome Anne Fine to my blog today to talk about Into the Bin, the role of the Children’s Laureate and children’s books.
LL. The subject matter of Into the Bin is excellent for encouraging the current interest shown by children in protecting our planet. Was there a specific event or situation which inspired you to write the book?
AF. I take as much interest as anyone else in the safety of the planet, and am very aware that those of school age, including my own grandchildren, care about this matter a great deal. (Indeed, they nag adults about it in much the same way that my daughters nagged me about my smoking habit. And hopefully, like them, they’ll win.)
I suddenly remembered that each time their rooms had turned into garbage tips, I’d go in with large black bin bags and a firm purpose. Picking up every item in turn, I’d ask, “Trash, or treasure?” They’d snatch all treasures and heap them on the bed. Dried-up felt pens and banana skins went into the rubbish, and things they never wore or played with any more were dumped, after a lot of squawking, into the charity shop bag. The problem was that other members of the family gathered like gannets. “You can’t throw that away. I want it.” “That’s perfect for my school project!” “I can use that!” So our family was well into recycling even before it became so popular, and I became very well aware that, for almost every object in the world, there is someone who can use it.
LL. Children’s fiction can be useful for making young people aware of situations and events they may know little about. Do you always consider that aspect when writing a book?
AF. Not always. Sometimes an idea just comes to me, begging to be a book, and I’ll go with it. But Eva Ibbotson did once say that fiction ‘helped children lead big lives’. After all, you only get your own personal experience: your own country, your own social class, your own temperament, your own parents. Reading widens the child’s vicarious experience so much. But unlike many writers who expand their readers’ knowledge of other countries, times or issues, like Beverly Naidoo or Elizabeth Laird, I tend to focus on trying to expand the thoughtfulness of their attitude towards those with other experiences, as in The Tulip Touch, or Blood Family. I stand with Susan Sontag, who said that she thought that the most useful thing that fiction could do was ‘increase the sense of the complexity of things’.
LL. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the Children’s Laureate scheme. What is your happiest memory of your period as Laureate and what would be your dream for future Laureates to achieve in the next twenty years?
AF. To be honest, my happiest memory was the day I finished. I was exhausted. The only back up for the Laureate at that time was Lois Beeson, a marvellous support but she lived in Southampton (I live in County Durham) and she fell seriously ill halfway through. So I ploughed on with the three main projects (www.myhomelibrary.org ; http://www.clearvisionproject.org ; and the poetry anthologies A Shame to Miss 1, 2 & 3, plus a score of keynote addresses, and, looking back, a quite astonishing number of talks and visits. My accountant actually queried whether I could possibly have caught as many trains as I claimed, and I never got to write a single word of fiction in the whole two years. But the two projects are still rolling along all these years later, and I am very, very proud of that.
I think one of the most interesting things about the Laureateship is how each person chooses to approach the role. But I expect we all share the same dream – to turn every child who could be a passionate reader into a passionate reader. I doubt if that will change over the next twenty years.
LL. You have been writing for children for many years. Do you think that their reading tastes have changed during that time?
AF. No, I don’t. I think publishers still second-guess what children will enjoy as much as they ever did, to the detriment of both the reading child and the industry. Of course, children’s lives have changed. The almost relentless ‘contact’ with others that comes from social media has to be taken into account if you’re writing about their lives now. But children themselves are no different, and their interest in, and emotional responses to, the sorts of problems that, sadly, never really change, won’t change either.
LL. You have published a wide range of books catering for different ages. Is there a particular age group you find most rewarding to write for or a genre you enjoy writing most?
AF. I keep trying to choose a favourite age group, but it won’t work. The idea comes, and I think, “Who’d like this idea most?” and then, till I’ve finished the book, that’s my favourite age group. (Though I admit that, after writing any of the eight adult novels, I felt like a piece of chewed string.) And I know that the prize winning children’s books, and the ones people want to talk to me about most, are the emotionally rich ones, like Goggle-Eyes or Step by Wicked Step. But I adored comedy as a child. So, secretly, my favourites are books like The More the Merrier, Eating Things on Sticks and Ivan the Terrible. I can almost hear my own daughters’ frequent expression. “We had a good laugh.” And I’d always be happy to settle for that.
I would like to thank Anne Fine for taking the time to answer my questions so fully. It has been a treat and I hope that readers have enjoyed the interesting responses as much as I have.
My thanks to Kirstin Lamb and Barrington Stoke for providing my free copy and for arranging the interview.