Domestic Bliss Report

Motherhood is hard work. If we don't stick together, we'll all fall apart.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

On "kiddie lit"

I've been mulling children's books for some time now. We get and give them as gifts, we go to book stores, when Madeleine was in preschool we got bookorders. Now that she's reading on her own, I'm getting an even more critical eye. I've come to some conclusions about what passes for children's "literature" today.
The vast majority of it is mediocre at best. The storyline, illustrations, and writing are the mental equivalent of a McDonald's Happy Meal--not bad once in a while but a steady diet is toxic. The TV-show and movie tie-in books are in this genre; if you squint you can see a moral or "teachable moment" in Dora, Bob the Builder, and others, but come on.

Don't use the excuse "But Dora teaches Spanish!" Thwack. [That's the sound of me smacking you on the back of the head.] She teaches the same dozen words every season. Same goes for media-tie in books that teach numbers, colors, or shapes. If your kid doesn't know those by the time they're five, Dora isn't going to help.

I think the overall deplorable quality is why pop culture folks think they can write it. I'm thinking of Madonna, but I admit I haven't had the stomach to actually pick up one of her works. Maybe her previous attempts at authorship are putting me off...

At least one exception: John Lithgow's Micawber. C. F. Payne's art is gorgeous, the rhyme is interesting not singsongy like Seuss can be, and the vocabulary will knock your socks off. "So if some July you should chance to pass by a viridian Central Park dale..." Viridian?! When was the last time you saw THAT word in the newspaper? He rhymes "park sanitation" with "peregrination." Who knew you needed a dictionary for bedtime stories?

My husband thinks that there was garbage passing for kids' books when we were young; I don't really disagree. I just think the good stuff is much more diluted than it was then.

Another more disturbing (because it's more insidious) aspect of kids' books I'm going to call "the troubled kids" genre. It's the ones where the protagonist is going through some or all of the same problems the reader is--divorce, stepfamily, drug use, menarche, et cetera. Judy Blume made a career writing this stuff.

While it's nice not to feel alone and to get coping tips from others, a little bit of this goes a long way. These poor kids never really came up with any answers to their questions. If the world and everyone in it is screwed up, why bother reaching for an ideal? Our children need to be shown that value exists not in just being one of a crowd but in leading "the crowd" to a better place.

[I tend to think "the troubled kid" type has outlived its useful life, like talk shows. Once upon a time, perhaps, it was useful to have a panel discussion of women whose husbands left them for other men. That was before the Internet where you can find a discussion group for anything. Now, do we really need Maury doing multiple paternity tests for various women? Or a forum for adult children embarrassed by their stripper stepmothers?]

Anyway. Those are my thoughts, but here's a link to Melanie's, who has a less-abrasive post that inspired this one.

The picture is the cover of the book I asked about a few months back, illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa. My husband the hunter...



At 7:33 PM, Blogger Andrea -- Just One More Book!! Podcast said...

We'd love to hear about one of your children's books, if you'd ever like to send us an audio recording for our Children's Book Podcast "Just One More Book!" -- a podcast about the children's books we love and why we love them.

Maybe while you're there you'll even find some new favourites!



Post a Comment

<< Home