One of the things I love most about children’s authors, is the seamless way they blend challenging and sensitive issues with humour to make the subject matter approachable for children. ‘Walls’ fits brilliantly into this category with its main character Ned struggling to come to terms with his parents’ divorce and break-up of peer friendships.
Ned’s parents have separated and he is not happy about it. Not one bit. This is especially because his parents have decided that the easiest way to do this (and to ensure that the children have equal access to both of them) is to literally split the family home in two. No longer will Ivy Lodge be one large, spacious home. Walls are going to be built right down the middle splitting it neatly into ‘Mum’s Side’ and ‘Dad’s Side,’ where the children will alternate their weeks.
During one particularly bad night when Ned sleep-walked into one of the new walls, he spectacularly loses his temper but discovers a new superpower – wallboggling! The first person he wants to tell is his best friend, Bill, but the two of them aren’t exactly on speaking terms. If only Bill would stop being stubborn and start doing what Ned tells him again!
Although Ned can be grumpy and stubborn and slightly blinkered when it comes to his own flaws, you can’t help but root for him as he struggles to adapt to his new living situation and the rules of having two families. I am sure that many children will recognise some of Ned’s foibles in their friends or themselves and perhaps reflect on how they could change.
Exclusive Author Post Alert!
I’m delighted to be hosting a special blog post from Emma herself about two of the central themes of the book: family break-ups and friendship troubles.
Take two themes and one magic skill. Mix well…
What a terrible TERRIBLE thing.’
That’s what Ned Arkle-Smith thinks at the start of Walls, and it’s hardly surprising. His parents have split up – and split the house too, with a wall straight down the middle. Mum lives one side, Dad the other, with Ned and his sisters shuttling between the two. A week the mum-side, then a week the dad-side.
But the wall is not such a terrible thing once Ned discovers an astonishing skill – the ability to walk through it. Ned calls his skill wallboggling and, with wallboggling transferable to allwalls, a whole world of possibilities opens up for Ned. And also for me, the writer – trying to tackle a sad and difficult subject in a funny and exciting way.
Because sad things do happen in children’s lives. Lots of children have to cope with some form of parental separation, or divorce – including, some years ago, my own. And I wanted, with distance and perspective, to write a story on that theme. A story with some sad moments, but far more funny ones – because children love to laugh. Children need to laugh(well, we all do, but that’s not one for now…). And the best funny stories can tackle the bad, the sad and the difficult – but still be full of laugh-out-loud moments. Especially with the added ingredient of magic.
Family, though, is one of two main worlds for children. Theirother world is outside the home, the world of their friends. And Ned has problems there too. He’s been away all summer while the wall is being built, and when he comes back his best friend, Bill, has made new friends.
So, a triangle, then. Two themes – a broken family, and trouble with friends; and one magic skill – wallboggling. The next step, to mix them well. To address Ned’s real-life issues, reflected through the prism of magic. To let the knockabout comedy of wallboggling free up Ned’s two tricky stories.
Ned… Grumpy and stubborn and exasperating – A loose cannon, and most definitely not the sort of child to use wallboggling wisely or well. But also in a hopeless position, because the two things he desperately wants will NEVERhappen. His mum and dad are not going to knock down the wall. Bill is not going to stop having other friends. Wallboggling is a way of helping Ned come to terms with those two painful facts through action and humour.
But laughter has a sibling – pathos. The most powerful comedy treads a thin line between laughter and tears. AndNed’s route to understanding is not an easy one. He thinks wallboggling is the answer to all his problems. He thinks wallboggling will sort things out…He thinks WRONG. He struggles and flounders. Instead of sorting out his problems, wallboggling just creates new ones – sometimes slapstick, sometimes farcical, sometimes sad. Until, at last, Ned turns things around, and uses his wallboggling for good.
Then there’s character. Comedy of character to back up the wallboggling. Comedy in Ned’s interactions with all those around him, in the gap between how he expects people to behave and how they actually do. And comedy in the voice of his conscience – his new neighbour, Maddie Clodd…
Maddie Clodd, or the Clodd, as Ned calls her – is Ned’s unwanted moral guide, and annoying to him on so many levels. She’s worked out Ned has a magic skill, and irritates him wildly with ever more improbable guesses as to what it might be. She insults him without fear or dissembling on a regular basis: ‘How can one kid know SO little about SO much?’ She continually gives him unasked-for advice about the good and bad ways to behave around his family and Bill.Worst of all – she’s right.
So, it’s the two-pronged power of wallboggling and comedy that see the reader through Ned’s difficult story. To the point where Ned reaches some understanding and acceptance of all the changes in his life. That Bill having new friends doesn’t mean he’s less of Ned’s friend. That the wall has a purpose, in keeping his family not apart, but together in a new dynamic. And comedy and laughter is, for me, the most powerful way to explore sad or difficult subjects that affect so many children because, children do love to laugh.
Thank you Emma for that wonderful post. I really think that books like yours are so important in encouraging young readers to open up about their worries and realise that what they’re feeling is completely normal.
*Many thanks to OUP for sending me this title to review*