Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Brave New World in Children's Literature

Some of my best ideas and inspirations happened in college, except that I didn't know how to develop them into something real and long-term.  For example, I started taking black and white photographs of the homeless people who lived on the sidewalk near Barnard/Columbia.  In exchange for them telling me their life story and allowing me to take their picture, I would give them a hearty lunch (sandwich, fruits, drink etc) and my full attention during the interview.

"Someday," I thought, "this could become a fascinating best-selling book."  Well, HONY [Humans of New York] has pretty much taken care of that niche in the market.  I follow the site and own the books, and in between loving the content and the impact this project has had, I wonder how I could have done it first.

In college I also took a creative writing course, and one of my favorite (award-winning) stories was the story of The Three Little Pigs, as told from the perspective of the wolf.  In my short story, the wolf was a rapper on MTV, with asthma; no apologies from me vis a vis the back story, it was the 80's.

This past Friday, at the library with Raphaela to get our weekend reading, we took out a children's book called The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, as told from the perspective of the wolf.  In it, the wolf explains how he was framed because all he had was a powerful sneeze, and that he was visiting his neighbors the pigs to borrow a cup of sugar, to bake a cake for his grandmother; a reference presumably to the wolf who eats Little Red Riding Hood's grandmother in another gruesome fairy tale.  The premise of the book, which is less for children than for their cynical and hip parents, is that the media had to hype the story and make him look like the Big Bad, because the birthday cake angle doesn't sell papers.

We have a similar children's book, a gift from a cousin, called Click Clack Moo, Cows that Type, which I feel is written as much for the parents as well as the kids.  The book describes, using animals as a substitute for humans (how very George Orwell), how effective blackmail works if used intelligently.  My mother hates this story and will not read it to my daughter, because she feels it teaches children how to be manipulative and be rewarded for it.

I can see her point, children these days are more savvy, and their books are written accordingly. On the other hand, it is a funny book and the illustrations work well, and while my daughter may be bright, I don't know how much she reads into the subtext beyond the slapstick.

On Sesame Street, Cookie Monster is enrolled in a 12-step program for his impulse control issues, Elmo may as well be taking Ritalin, and Telly is probably on anti-depressants. Snuffy was revealed to the rest of the street over fear that children may not tell their parents that they are being abused, because no one would believe them.  Katy Perry appeared on the children's educational program half-naked, and I don't remember there being any outcry from parents.   We're not in Kansas anymore...

Raphaela and I recently finished reading The Little Prince together, and as I was bawling and feeling my entire understanding of the Universe deepen, she did not venture beyond the basic story IE plane gets fixed, Little Prince goes home to his flower, man is sad.

As a person who was quite naïve until I left for college, I wonder if we are raising this 21rst Century of children better, or if we are denying them some aspect of that idyllic youth, by exposing them to reality too early.

1 comment:

deeps said...

as a kid i grew up reading books and playing in mud and water, but the reality has changed a lot...dono for good or bad