Boring Childhoods

Writes Mark Ravenhill in the Guardian, “I always skip the first hundred or so pages of a biography. Childhoods are never interesting.” For adult readers, that is. Children, on the other hand, are often equally bored with adulthood. At least that has been my observation of the children I’ve worked with over the years. Of course, if the adulthood is sufficiently dramatic they will be interested, but they gravitate mostly to stories and books about children — their peers. Even if they live in different times and places, they have childhood in common. So these adults who skip the childhood sections of biographies are obviously far, far away from their own child times. Personally and no doubt because I do work with children, I find the childhood sections fascinating.



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7 responses to “Boring Childhoods

  1. Well, I feel sure he is deliberately trying to provoke–but really, that is incredibly counter-intuitive! I do not like it when biographies begin with a long chunk of pages concerning grandparents, parents etc.–usually this material should be dealt with very briefly. But surely the childhood and adolescence parts of biographies are almost always the most interesting parts of the book?!?


  2. Jenny,

    I so agree with you about the family history; I always get incredibly frustrating with grandparents and parents — wondering when we are finally going to meet the main person. But chlldhood seems most interesting of all to me too.


  3. trinak

    I, too, am always fascinated by the childhood parts of biographies. I think this is partially because, in their childhood, famous folk were just normal kids. It adds a perspective–we all started as unknown kids facing most of the same experiences–parents, siblings, school, friends, etc.



  4. I remember reading a series of books about the childhoods of famous people (we owned Queen Elizabeth, Clara Barton, Louisa May Alcott, and Marie Curie)–they were fascinating. I think Trina has a good point, too.


  5. I love childhood biographies. I once read a book (an old book from a library) which had a whole bunch of childhoods of famous people, of which I can only certainly remember Patton and Churchill, but it was very interesting. Sought out a bio of Roald Dahl after reading my daughter Matilda – I thought he must surely have been an abused chid. But apparently not (although lots of sadness and death throughout his life).

    My daughter (not a great reader even as an adult) loved childhood stories of people like Helen Keller, Louis Braille and Anne Frank when she was 11 or so. I offerred these books to her younger brother at the same age and he rejected them as too emotionally disturbing (my words, but I got his drift). He also rejected fantasy as “too weird” at this age, but grew to be by far the more adventurous reader. (Well, the reader.)


  6. I am reminded of the day in seventh grade when I picked up To Kill a Mockingbird, fully expecting it to be weighty, dull, and all about grownups. Imagine my delight, then, when it turned out to concern (or at least be told from the point of view of) some children not far removed in years from me.


  7. That seems very odd to me. In my experience, the “childhood” section of autobiographies is almost invariably the most evocative and lovingly recreated. And biographies of famous adults as children have always been interesting.


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