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Travesty! Eoin Colfer beats out Dahl, White in U.K. kids book vote.

June 18, 2010

Eoin Colfer, who resembles an aging pixie.

Further evidence that the British aren’t as smart as they used to be (and maybe they never were?) came this week when U.K. readers voted Eion Colfer’s Artemis Fowl as the best children’s book published by Puffin in its first 70 years.

Or maybe it’s just another instance of the present lording it over the past. Nothing against Colfer, whose books, featuring a teenage criminal mastermind, are funny and quick. I gave the fourth entry, Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception, a rave review in the Sun-Sentinel back in 2005.

But better than Raold Dahl, another dark and funny children’s writer, whose Charlie and the Chocoate Factory came in second? Better than E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web? I think not.

The publisher nominated seven titles, one from each decade, for the so-called “Puffin of Puffins” (a clever play on the “Booker of Bookers” a couple of years ago, when Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children was voted the best novel in the first 40 years of the Man Booker Prize).

In addition to Colfer and Dahl, the nominees were Eve Garnett’s The Family from One End Street; Clive King’s Stig of the Dump; Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mister Tom; Jeremy Strong’s The Hundred-Mile-an-Hour Dog.

Presumably most of the 10,000 votes cast came from children, with 68 percent of them polling for Colfer. I can’t help thinking Artemis Fowl had a huge advantage simply for being the most recent of the nominated books.

Today’s children, naturally, voted for today’s hot author –Colfer’s novels have sold 20 million copies worldwide, reports The Scotsman.

At the Guardian Alison Flood gently mocked inane comments by Puffin’s managing director Francesca Dow, who said, among other things, that Artemis Fowl is a book “very much for the 21st century.”

It’s revealing, though, that Flood’s pick just happens to be  Magorian’s Goodnight Mr. Tom— the favorite from her own childhood in the ’80s.  If she were a teenager today she likely would have voted for Colfer, too.

Flood does mount such a passionate argument for Goodnight Mr. Tom, it makes me want to go find the book right now.

For his part, Colfer is admirably modest about his win, calling it his “proudest professional moment,” and thanking the voters.

“Once you see Roald Dahl on a list, you just write yourself off immediately,” said Colfer, according to the Irish Times, adding: “I’m alive and I’ve a mailing list, so that was a bit of an advantage.”

So what do you think — is Colfer better than Roald Dahl? Are the English getting dumber by the year, if not the day? And while we’re on the subject of children’s books, what’s your favorite?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Tommy Smart permalink
    June 18, 2010 12:43 pm

    Where the Sidewalk Ends always has a special place. The Sideways Stories from Wayside School series were fun as a kid. The Choose Your Own Adventure books series were such a good time.

    Favorite? Too many and it seems like a lifetime ago. Okay, The Witches by you guessed it Roald Dahl.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      June 18, 2010 9:20 pm

      To tell the truth, the only children’s books I can remember reading when I was, you know, an actual child, are Old Yeller, the juvenile sci-fi novels of Robert Heinlein (which I still love, and think better than his adult novels) and a series of fictionalized biographies of great Americans that I devoured the way kids today eat up Harry Potter or Edward Cullen. Most of the time I read adult novels and nonfiction. I came to my deepest appreciation of children’s lit after I had kids myself (apologies to Philip Larkin, who I did not discover in time.)

      • Tommy Smart permalink
        June 18, 2010 10:17 pm

        I also read above my age. Flatland, to me, was a children’s book. Along with books on hauntings, the paranormal and Ian Fleming novels. Anything under that level became kiddie books.

  2. Mr. QT permalink
    June 18, 2010 1:23 pm

    I think it’s not that the British are declining in intelligence, rather, we have entered a new period in literature, the period of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and they are merely the harolds of this new era. I think it more foolish of you to begrudge them their opinions and call them “stupid” after failing to recognize the new era in literature.

    • Tommy Smart permalink
      June 18, 2010 1:59 pm

      Did you read about this new era in the Miami Harold or the Son Sentinel?

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      June 18, 2010 9:27 pm

      I really hope you wrote “harolds of this new era on purpose,” because if you did it’s really funny, and not a severe word misusage. Otherwise, though, I think you miss my point. For one thing, I don’t call them “stupid,” I call them “dumb.” The distinction in my mind: “stupid” is intractable but “dumb” can be corrected. And it’s not news that we live in an era of sci-fi and fantasy, which I have no problem with. On the contrary. Roald Dahl, after all, is primarily a fantasist. I just think Eoin Colfer — who I like, let me emphasize — does not match up with Dahl or White.

      • Tommy Smart permalink
        June 18, 2010 10:11 pm

        Please inform me of which definition of “harold” you are using, Chauncey.

      • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
        June 18, 2010 11:07 pm

        Well, I’m pretty sure he meant “herald,” but since Harold is such an archetypal English name (remember Prince Hal, right?), I’m hoping he means it as a pun.

      • Tommy Smart permalink
        June 18, 2010 11:56 pm

        No answer from QT, so I’m guessing it was a mistake.

        I want it to be harold, Harold is not a name we hear anymore. My Grandfather’s name was Harold. Harold Ballew in fact, one-time Managing Editor at the St. Pete Times. Here is a link, because I’m such a proud Grandson:,5267286&dq=harold+ballew&hl=en

  3. Connie permalink
    June 18, 2010 3:52 pm

    Showing my age here, but A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle has always been and always WILL be my favorite children’s book. Suck on that, JK Rowling.

  4. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    June 18, 2010 9:27 pm

    “Tesseract” is a big word for a little girl.

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