Children’s books are a passion of mine.
Recently my brother brought home a flyer for the Scholastic Book Fair, and as I flipped through its pages I felt myself alternating between rage and despair.
For me this flyer perfectly highlighted the fast deterioration of children’s literature, and I couldn’t decide if I should rave against Scholastic or curl up and cry over the death of children’s literature.
I’m not saying that kids should only be reading the Illiad and Shakespeare, but seriously explain to me how ANYONE can gain any literary insight from books like Slacker, Diary of a Minecraft Zombie, the Pigeon series, or The Gingerbread Man Loose at The Zoo?
I’m not going to be a hypocrite and say I’ve never bought a book by Scholastic, that there aren’t any Scholastic books on my shelves, or that I haven’t read books that in retrospect were infernally stupid. I mean when I was a kid I read a lot of Geronimo Stilton and Junie B. Jones books, but I also read Little Women, Pollyanna, and The Swiss Family Robinson.
I think the ratio of highly entertaining drivel to books of substance is what’s important here. I have no problem if a kid wants to read a Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Lego Ninjago book every once in a while, but twaddle-free literature should make up the bulk of their reading.
Another argument is that kids read these kinds of books purely for entertainment and that it doesn’t reflect on their ability to read heavier books.
Which fine, I myself break up my reading of longer, heavier books with lighter, entertaining reading. But the real question here is for the sake of entertainment should children really be reading books full of crass humor, inappropriately morbid imagery, and nonsensical lines of writing that can’t rightfully be called sentences? In order to be “relatable” to children, should one give them examples of characters who detest hard work and are entirely self-centered in their actions? There are perfectly entertaining books that don’t feature any of these undesirable qualities.
Furthermore, as one examines the books intended for really young kids, I’m talking 0-3 year olds, the writing trends are even more disturbing. For some reason there is this idea that young children can’t handle a book with more than 3 recurring words. I mean I’ll be browsing through the children’s book section at the library and I’ll come across a book about trains. I’ll think, Okay! Looks interesting! Then I’ll open up the book and each page will have a picture of a train puffing along a track followed only by the words, “Train goes fast!” or “Train goes whoosh!” It’s incredibly vexing!
Young children are incredibly smart. We can’t always understand them, but they always understand us. So where did this astonishingly ludicrous notion that they will somehow enjoy these excuses for books come from?
Children are uncommonly perceptive and make connections that would never occur to a grown person. We should respect their intelligence and foster it with books that provoke discussion and parallel their wonder at the world around them.
I figured if I’m going to rant about something, I’d better have an alternative. So below is a list of some of my favorite children’s books which neither detail the life of a half-dead creature nor are ten pages long and only feature the words “Beep! Bump! Blip!”