Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dreadful David

Sally's People are characters I invented for books, short stories and poems. Their creation spans the last three decades of the 20th Century and (so far) the first of the 21st.
Dreadful David is a character I created back in the early 1980s for a picture book of the same name. Young David, an energetic child or two or three years old, was very loosely based on my son, but David's exploits are mostly invented. "Dreadful David" was illustrated by the wonderful Craig Smith, published by Omnibus Books in 1984, and is still, amazingly, in print as of 2009. It was my twelfth published book, but my first picture book and, not knowing what I was doing, I made a lot of tactical errors.
Here are just a few of them:
David was very young. (The received wisdom is that child readers prefer protagonists older than they are themselves.)
The story was told in rhyme.
David was a naughty little boy, and thus a bad role model.
David was a naughty little boy, and thus a stereotype.
Granny smacks his bottom.
For some mysterious reason, none of this mattered, for David is fondly remembered by many readers, and still goes down a treat with children to this day.


  1. I have enjoyed reading about your characters, Sally. Dreadful David sounds great. I do so like to read about books that defy conventional wisdom and succeed. I still remember your story (Fanstory) about Emma and Thommo that I absolutely loved. Has it been published yet?

  2. Yes, it was published in a collection a while ago:-)

  3. Today I read this book to my child in his kindergarten classroom & was appauled at the story - that he was 'naughty' & was smacked, yelled at & sent to bed (with no resolution). I notice you admit to errors in writing this book and I understand it may have been acceptable 20 years ago! I am just saddened their teacger find nothing wrong with the content. But, at my request, the book had been removed from the shelf. Nicole Norris

  4. Oh Nicole, can I say most respectfully, get over yourself. My daughter borrowed this book from school last week and we just love it. She got my Mum to read it aloud to us all, and she could have written the words herself ("an afternoons worth of doings up his sleeve"'s classic!). I worry that we can be just too politically correct; children aren't silly, they get it. I fear that all you've done is deprive future kindergarten classes of a fun story.

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  6. Hi Sally, as you may gather from my previous post, we just love your story of Dreadful David. In fact, I happened across this blog because I was searching the internet for a copy to buy. My Mum loves it (she could be granny!). I love all the things about the book that you supposedly did wrong (as I said to Nicole, kids aren't silly, they know the deal). Your phrasing is beautiful; I love the old-fashioned-ness of it (and the pictures as well). I look forward to having a copy of our own. Tanya.

  7. Sally, I can't believe you think you made "tactical errors" in writing this book. This is one of the best books I have come across for this age group. I LOVED this book and so did my children (boys). The rhyming is brilliant. Kids that age love that singsong style. And David's age is perfect. Little boys in particular can identify with David. He's a delight. As for being a stereotype and a bad role model, what is more fun than a naughty boy? My kids have grown up perfectly respectable and have never done any of the things David did. As for Granny smacking David's bottom, he so deserved it. Lots of books (and not just books for kids) have content that is not real). My kids sympathised with Granny (and the poor kitten) while clapping their hands with glee at David's antics. I have not seen the book in 20 years (we gave our copy away unfortunately) but it makes me laugh just remembering it. I'm currently trying to buy it for the next generation and am having trouble. Where can get I some copies? I'd like 3. As for Nicole, I'm with Tanya. Political correctness is a scourge of the modern age. Nicole, I’d like to know, do you have any children of your own?

  8. Dreadful David is a great story for 3-4 year olds. I have read it to my kindergarten groups over many years and, as previously stated, think the children totally get the message. They love to see how naughty David can be; squirting water in the most unlikely places. But Granny certainly knows how to deal with him!
    It reminds me of my father giving my young nephew's nappy-padded bottom a smack many years ago. I don't think it hurt his bottom but it sure got the message across. He settled down for his afternoon nap quietly after that.
    As for whether it is politically correct to read it to young children now, I think it can open up discussion about appropriate behaviour and ways that their own parents might punish them if they misbehave whether we condone it or not.
    Still a relevant theme for young children and I love the illustrations.

  9. Dear Sally,

    I have loved Dreadful David for the past twenty years or so..I quote your text all the time..and I read it to my ADD'er clients..they love it! It is such a useful tool for me..a little boy can do so many impulsive, fun, curious things (and they are perceived as naughty), then still be loved..a powerful message.