Children's TV is too sanitised, say Julia Donaldson and Michael Morpurgo

Anita Singh
BBC One will screen Julia Donaldson's The Snail and the Whale this Christmas - WARNING: Use of this copyright image is subject to the terms of use of BBC Pictures' Digital Picture

Children’s stories on television are stripped of adventure and risk, according to two of Britain’s most popular children’s authors, as they warned against the “overprotection” of young audiences.

Julia Donaldson and Sir Michael Morpurgo will see adaptations of their books on the BBC this Christmas. Donaldson’s The Snail and the Whale is to be shown on Christmas Day, followed by Morpurgo’s Mimi and the Mountain Dragon on Boxing Day.

But Donaldson suggested that her books are considered a safe option for the screen - previous adaptations have included The Gruffalo and The Highway Rat - because they tend to feature animals and magical creatures rather than children.

Asked in Radio Times if she worried about telling tales of risk “in an age of anxious overprotection”, she replied: “Oh, yes. “There’s this muddled attitude sometimes, when books are made into films. People have an idea that children can’t tell the difference between stories and real life.

“In a TV drama you can’t show a child as an orphan, or with parents away. Parents have to be seen, so you can see that they’re being kept an eye on.

“I think that’s why a lot of editors like a book about animals: animals can be shown taking risks. Otherwise it’s, ‘Oh dear! This child took something from a stranger! Can’t have that…’”

A scene from Mimi and the Mountain Dragon Credit: BBC/Leopard Pictures

She was backed up by Morpurgo, author of War Horse, who combines his writing career with running the Farms for City Children charity.

He said: “In our project, in the countryside, there’s always an element of risk and decision-learning on how to be sensible. But we get crowded in by regulations, which make it difficult to let children have exposure to the countryside.

“I’m not suggesting they climb 30ft trees, but it’s OK to jump across a ditch, fall in, get muddy. We mustn’t limit them… The more children are exposed to the world, the better.

“Dirty is good, falling over is good. I have this scar on my knee where I fell in the playground. They put on iodine and sent you home. No fuss. The more children are exposed to the world the better.”

Donaldson added: “It’s important that children learn about nature and touch things, see flowers and wasps. People tell them to love the planet, but if you don’t actually know what the planet is, and love things about it, why would you?”

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