Friday, August 8, 2008

Seriously, Please. Authors of Children's Books are Serious Authors.

"As soon as someone tells a story about a character...narrative seems to want to bend itself around that character, wants to merge with that character, to take on his or her way of thinking or speaking...

There is  technical connection, for instance between 'Make Way for Ducklings' and James's novel 'What Maisie Knew.' "

This is fascinating stuff from "How Fiction Works," by James quoted, today, in 'Paper Cuts' by Steve Coates.

Only thing is, I am wondering exactly what is meant by "a more serious writer." Yes, of course, Henry James was terribly serious. But I worry about the myopia of, perhaps, automatically thinking (which, I admit, may be taken out of context since we have only seen a bit of the book quoted) that grown-up book writers (a.k.a. authors) are "more serious" than children's book writers (a.k.a. authors). 

What could be more serious than communicating, well, with children? Wasn't Robert McCloskey a master of this? Certainly, more people have been seriously influenced by "Make Way for Ducklings" than "What Maisie Knew." 

Well, lots more people have finished the former, surely? And how serious is it that most of those many children and adults who were able to finish "...Ducklings" were able to "inhabit Mr. Mallard's confusion" (which sounds a lot, to me, like empathizing with Mr. Mallard).

To empathize, to learn to empathize, to inhabit the confused feelings of another...these are serious things, yes? This is part of teaching critical thinking, isn't it? Mr. McCloskey has helped teach these things to how many millions of people?

Teaching children: I think this is serious stuff. And I think "Make Way for Ducklings" has had a long enough career at the top of the charts to indicate that it's done of good job of it. 

Cheers to Mr. McCloskey and Mr. James for being straight-up (as my kids say) serious masters of their art. And cheers to Mr. Woods and Mr. Coates for at least bringing children's literature to the table for any part of the discussion, no matter where it leads. For too long now, I think, it has not quite been welcome enough: it is time to rectify this. Good children's literature changes lives. That is serious stuff

Truly great children's literature is 
truly great literature. 

Does great literature, in any form, need to be quantified?

Photo by Julia Cameron