In Search of Fun Kid’s Lit

From last weekend’s NYT book review section,
Why Teachers Love Depressing Books spoke direrctly to my own childhood reading experiences. Reviewing Welcome to Lizard Motel: Children, Stories, and the Mystery of Making Things Up by Barbara Feinberg, which talks about imagination in children’s literature, it says:

Only a reader as attuned to realism as Feinberg could have puzzled out so nuanced a defense of imagination in children’s lives. She sees the memoirlike problem novels as symptoms of ”the drastic fall from grace that the imagination has suffered in popular understanding” and her generation’s insistence on ”making our children wake from the dream of their childhoods.” Adults, she suspects, secretly resent the sheltered, enchanted world children inhabit and under the pretext of preparing them for life’s inevitable difficulties, want to rub their noses in traumas they may never actually experience and often aren’t yet able to comprehend. All the better to turn them into miniature grown-ups, little troupers girded to face a world where they have no one to count on but themselves.

I remember the prevalence of “problem novels” filled with death, abuse, illness, and abandonment from my own school reading. Why was it that somewhere along the way “good” had to come to mean “emotionally challenging”? The bane of my personal existence was the “tragic animal genre”, in which a beloved pet or animal friend dies, usually after having saved the life of their young human companion (see The Yearling). As a whole, this style of book seems to serve the purpose of making sure that we all learn from a young age that horrible things are right around the corner and to never forget that you could lose whatever you love the most. Why do we want to teach our children fear and insecurity? I agree with the article’s conclusion – that while some kids love those books, others hate them (if not find them emotionally devistating), and a single minded focus on a single genre like this will hurt readership – and it’s corresponding educational objectives. [via The Rage Diaries]

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