Tuesday, May 6, 2008

this started off as "simplicity," and turned into a bit o' a manifesto

A book, a pencil; paper and glue; a photograph, a moment of song or dance or anything that could be viewed and reviewed and loved for years to come...

The way in which media currently cross-pollinates and the broad definition of what might be art: these will, inevitably, redefine the way children look at books in the coming generations.  Hundreds of years ago, hornbooks were used to teach in school rooms...these gave way to chalk-covered slates, which gave way to papers and pencils and piles of texts...and, as I type this on my well-loved macbook, I think of what the near future holds for classrooms...  Evolution happens.  As we embrace the long tradition of great books, so should we embrace the change that is coming about, and the implications it has for the children of the world.   

The discomfort in the newsroom and the publishing houses today (thus, my little "sigh") will give way to, I hope, a new understanding: the acceptance that children are going to be finding text and illustration in a variety of formats, and it will be a good thing.  

We must embrace the democratization of art and media; through this portal, great things shall pass.  

Children who might never have received a book will find the pictures and words online, if we put them in the right places.  The literary reach that can be created, should we allow ourselves to envision it, can be broad and far.  It is the job of the generation that is reading this to extend the capabilities of literature for children: to bring the product to the consumer in a variety of fashions, all of which are preferable to no literature at all (which is what far too many children receive).  

As for the literature that is available:  there are such magnificent, wonderous artists out there... illustrators and authors who could become, I hope, household words.  

That every child might know Maurice Sendak and "The Wild Things" is good, and that they might be introduced to them through the magic of books or film or storytelling...all of this is forward movement, for it gives the stories to the children.  

My children grew up with "Mrs. Mustard's" baby faces strewn about the house...we literally adored the books to bits, and had to go out and get more.  To meet the real Mrs. Mustard--the amazing and erudite Jane Wattenberg--several years ago was a surprise and a delight...she is every bit as fabulous as her books.  

In Connecticut, when our children were still in highchairs and onesies, it was Thacher Hurd who saved many an afternoon...a raucous late-lunch version of "Mama Don't Allow" would bring the house down and quiet the crowd (there were three little ones then, and it could be quite a task to settle everyone).  Once they were all thoroughly enveloped in the world of rollicking, guitar-playing, bayou-dwelling alligators, the my three little red-cheeked rowdies would listen in rapture...and the blissful moment of joy that accompanies the last page of a well-loved book would lead us into a quieter afternoon.

The glorious, shifting chaos that is media today...the re-structuring of the way we think about books and words and pictures now that we are well past the dawn of the internet...the possibility of bringing these forms of art, in a variety of media, to children throughout the world (especially children who might never have had exposure to the magnificent literary gifts that so many talented authors and illustrators give us)...these can be harbingers of great good.

We have the opportunity to bring great art to many children.  If we can let go of previous notions about how this literature should be delivered, we can move forward, through the chaos--and toward a more literate future, at a respectable pace.