SBD, standard precoffee "kids books are better these days" rant.

Mike's back. He went to a conference most of last week. What did he bring back as Welcome Home Dad whadja bring me gifts? Three-foot-long wooden ninja swords (of course one is already broken). Every now and then he drops the responsible dad thing and acts like a good male idiot. phew.

Segue into Let Them be Idiots.

The books I had as a kid...been thinking about that ever since I hauled out Nobody's Boy and reread it. Pfah. He's kind of a dull dude because he (unlike a lot of other characters) is A Good Boy.

The other book I loved back then was all about a bad little girl who (because she's so bad) is shrunk to a teeny thing and has to fly around on the back of a goose. I think it was actually a few books but damned if I can find the titles. Maybe it was Norwegian? Someone tell me the name of the book, okay? Please? Thanks.

Anyway.

She couldn't just shrink, like William Joyce's George. No, the shrinking was punishment so she could Learn and Turn Good. All the damn books had the kids turning from Evil to Good (or, like Stuwwelpeter, merely punished**). I get the idea that any worthwhile book has the main characters grow and change. But kids in most of those old books change according to an adult's ideal--and the ideal was far less interesting than your average bad kids. Even their lives were less interesting. I mean the goose girl books--I loved them because of the parts when she was clinging to the back of a goose and getting to fly around with them. Not the parts where she Learned Lessons and certainly not the part where she went back to being a normal girl. Bah. Even great ones that are still popular, like The Secret Garden, have that DO YOU GET IT? push it in your face thing going.

Judging from the books my kids bring home, at last someone decided the story is at least as important than the message. Or maybe it's that authors don't need to belabor the point? Or maybe there are just more choices out there? I bet the moral police still write books that pound the message.

The general decline, hell in handbasket "the world was better when________" schtick doesn't apply to kids' books. They're better. One of those duh things, right, Els? But it really is brought home to me when I read Nobody's Boy to myself and then pick up The Bromeliad Trilogy to read to my kid. Now I'm going to go find my copy of Five Little Peppers....

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** I went to Amazon to find Struwwelpeter books and found this review with a Terry Prachett quote "...it was much earlier than that when most people forgot that the very oldest stories are, sooner or later, about blood. Later on they took he blood out to make the stories more acceptable to children, or at least to the people who read them to children rather than the children themselves (who, on the whole, are quite keen on blood provided it's being shed by the deserving. That is to say, those who deserve to shed blood. Or possibly not. You never quite know with some kids.)"

Comments

  1. I recall a few books from childhood which pissed me off -- and they all had the same basic shtick: child has special powers, has fun with them for a while, then learns that it's better to give up his powers to conform to society's norm. Damn, that irked me. One such was something like J. Phillip Birdsong's ESP, but there were others.

    Kid's books today really are better. OTOH, did you ever read Fitzgerald's Great Brain books? If I remember correctly, those were mostly fun, not moralistic.

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  2. Yeah, kids can see through the moralistic crap pretty easily and lose interest. At least, I always could. I haven't read that book you're talking about, Kate, but the premise--girl is Bad, gets miniaturized and flies around doing cool stuff, until she Learns Her Lesson and goes back to ordinary size and ordinary life--hell, that'd have me ACHING for opportunities to be bad!

    And Doug, you're right about the horrible "it's better to give up the power and be like everyone else" shit. I don't remember when we stopped teaching kids that everyone's different, but now natural differences are lost in the message of, "I'm okay, you're okay, don't stand out!" And that's sad.

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  3. Freddy the Pig books were great. I think they were at least. I havne't read one since I was 11.

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  4. I always liked Pippi Longstocking. She lived alone and had a horse living in her house.
    My first idol.
    LOL
    Your review of Future Love is up on my blog!!
    Loved it, BTW!!!!

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  5. OH of course.
    Freddy the pig is a pilot (I read that one--great stuff) and Pippi! Well, heck, PIPPI! How could I forget her?

    There you go Doug and AE, one person who didn't blend in. Of course she could beat the snot out of anyone who gave her shit for being different. AND she didn't change.

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  6. It's true! Kids' books today are great! And teen books are undergoing such a renaissance that newspapers are writing feature articles about it.

    That said, there's always a large underlayer of mediocrity and crap in any genre, and kidlit is no exception. (Late-issue Berenstains, anyone?)

    Still, the best stuff is pretty darn good.

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