Discuss how the book The Bunker Diary, which has most recently won the UK Carnegie Prize, fits into the history and tradition of children’s literature. Your discussion should refer to Little...

Discuss how the book The Bunker Diary, which has most recently won the UK Carnegie Prize, fits into the history and tradition of children’s literature. Your discussion should refer to Little Women, Tom's Midnight Garden or Swallows and Amazons.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that a solid argument can be made that Brooks's The Bunker Diary does not neatly fit into the history and tradition of children's literature.  It's something that the author himself concedes:  

As Brooks revealed in his acceptance speech, he fought for 10 years to get this novel into print, and was repeatedly told that it wouldn’t work for children unless he changed the plot to allow for the possibility of hope. He won the day and, as it stands, his novel is a uniquely sickening read.

It is clear that Brooks did not want to create a novel that fit the redemption and restoration which is so much a part of the history and tradition of children's literature.

However, I think that there can be some similarities between The Bunker Diary and Tom's Midnight Garden.  In both works, isolation from the outside world reveals transcendent notions of the good.  Tom is only able to understand the nature of truth when he enters the garden, while Linus learns a true aspect of human identity while in the bunker.  While the idyllic garden is the direct opposite of the oppressive bunker, both settings are distinct from the real world as they are the settings for life lessons.  Through isolation, male protagonists better understand the nature of the world and their place in it.  Similar to a part of the literary tradition of children's literature, Linus uses a diary to communicate his thoughts, as Tom does with his written accounts of his experiences. 

However, I would make the argument that the The Bunker Diary opens a new dimension to the history and tradition of children's literature.  It presents a world where redemption and restoration is often a challenging reality for many children.  Given how many experiences that children endure with victimization, abuse, abandonment, and neglect, many struggle to find hope in their own modern worlds.  The Bunker Diary sadly speaks to the experience of how children struggle in the modern setting.  Realities that might not have been as conceivable or as rampant in previous conditions are understood as part of what it means to be a child now.  For example, the "dirty old man" is a terrible figure and one who is not present in the history of children's literature. However, given how many children are victimized at the hands of older individuals, it is a figure in the modern setting of which children must have awareness.  It is in this light where The Bunker Diary might not fit neatly into the history and tradition of children's literature.  It fits into the sad narrative of what it means to be a child today.  Certainly, no one would wish any child to experience what Linus does.  However, it is clear that children being abducted and victimized are a part of the reality which gives birth to The Bunker Diary.  In this light, works like Little Women, Tom's Midnight Garden, and Swallows and Amazons, speak to one aspect of the childhood experience, while works like Junk, The Other Side of Truth, and The Bunker Diary might speak to another.  The fact that the Carnegie Prize has pivoted towards works that possess this "darker" element within it might speak to such a trajectory in children's literature.

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