Friday, July 23, 2004

Imaginations need lots of ingredients 

The Littlest Scholar and Mrs. B (who btw liked the idea of gaining queenhood) are quarreling over books.  LS has been induced (money) to read Anne of Green Gables, while she would prefer to read the LOTR trilogy, as did her father when I was her age.  Not uplifting enough, Missus says.  Joanne Jacobs agrees.

My daughter read a lot of social issues books -- she must have read a dozen about dyslexia -- in her youth, but they were lighter than this: The homeless girl would be a friend, not the main character. The crazy mother would be offstage after the first chapter, replaced by the difficult but basically decent grandmother.
She also read Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden and the like. Anne is an orphan sent to live with strangers who want a boy to work on their farm. Mary is a neglected child who's orphaned; her cousin is a neglected invalid. In Little Women, the father is away fighting the Civil War. Beth dies. Yet these books aren't grim.

Joanne links to this article by Rachel Johnson (free registration required) that makes the point of the difference between 'dark' and 'grim'.
Philip Pullman and Lemony Snicket are dark in the way that C.S. Lewis or Roald Dahl are dark, in an inventive, fantastical, even anarchical way that takes root and sprouts in the child�s imagination. Whereas Doing It and the forthcoming Julie Burchill book, Sugar Rush, which I am told is a joyful exploration of the sunlit teenage world of drugs and lezzies, sound unquestionably grim and narrowly grotty.

Kids running around the house pretending to be Frodo or Harry Potter is something I'm likely to approve of.  The question Johnson raises -- do you teach kids about drugs and divorce early on through "reality" kid-lit -- are ageless.  What strikes her as depressing, with which I agree, is the preponderance of these grim titles in the children's literature award finalists. 

Tolkein never meant LOTR to be a kid's story; my parents were none too thrilled by my choice either.  They couldn't see the appeal to imagination (and to an ethical system) in Star Trek either.  They probably didn't like me reading Ball Four when I was 12 as well.  At least those books were understood to be adult books, however, which a child could use for exploration.  Using children's literature for explanation of the vicissitudes of life is entirely different though, something on which the Missus and I agree.

Lately the LS has taken to debating the qualities of the Iron Chefs.  (She's a Morimoto fan.  Fan, you say?  You've no idea.)  You never know what the ingredients are to a child's imagination.  But I don't think books about kids smearing feces on walls is going to help that.