Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Children's Lit or Lit Children

Whenever the subject of children's literature is raised, it is invariably done by adults. You do not believe you ever thought of children's literature as such when you were at an age when such things might have applied to you. There were sections in libraries and book stores where your interests did not lead you, largely because these sections had names that spoke to you of things older persons might be interested in, names such as biography and history, which held no attraction until you chanced upon a person whose biography you might wish to read or at least consult, and of course there were some child-like evidences of your naivete relating to history; you thought, for instance, that there was a real Norman, an individual much like the bullying playground Norman of your limited experience. But when you discovered Norman was considerably more than one person, you braved the history section.

If you thought of yourself at all in terms of what you were drawn to read, it was not as any of the euphemisms such as young person, boy (as in boy's adventure) and certainly not young adult, although you'd discovered early on that the things you wished to read were more likely to be in the general sections of the library or book store.

In later years you discovered that adults who wished to write for younger readers fell into two distinct groups, those who already wrote for and published in their field and those adults who had a seriously flawed view of what children's literature was all about. These later adults had lost touch with the children's literature that had been written since they were reading children's books. In some ways, they may have wished to return however briefly to that time of magic when their reading sensitivities and imagination were in bud and coming to full flower, just as many of us have come to see young readers as exponentially more sophisticated than we were at their age. Much of this has to do with the fact of restrictions being lifted, of the more vocal writers pushing themes about identity and self-image that were only hinted at in earlier generations. Boys no longer go on mere adventures, girls no longer get the soft, idyllic, languorous life. Both genders got issues they and their peers face on a daily basis.

Much of the stories involving younger characters are accordingly nuanced, probing, willing to allow their younger characters to step out of the shadowy lands of stereotype, where they are able to act on their fantasies, pursue their goals, and question the meanings we adults may have accepted too easily. Stories by writers who have understood their ways through childhood see the narrative as something every bit as tenuous and labyrinthine as the narrative of adulthood; they write of it accordingly.

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