Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Aren't You the Lucky Ones


I am doing battle with a cold, which must be vanquished because I have plans for the immediate future. So my battle plan for today involved lying on the couch reading magazines, believing that activity, somehow, would make me get better faster than, say, sitting in front of a word processor would. As a result, I finished reading the most recent issue of The Horn Book. And now you're going to hear all about it.

First off, in The Curious Incident of the BBC Radio Show Madeline Travis discusses a BBC Radio 3 program that was aired back in February in which a panel discussed why adults read children's books. I just want to point out that you heard about it here first! I heard the program over the Internet (Roger Sutton mentioned it at Child_Lit) and wrote about it on March 8.

Travis's spin on the panel discussion is that what these people really had their knickers in a twist about was Harry Potter. She made the point that Potter may be the only children's book a lot of adults know of and if they have complaints about that book they project them on the whole field. Travis refers to the panel members as "high-brow cultural commentators" (no argument from me there) and felt that for the most part they "seemed to believe that children's books are intrinsically inferior to those written for adults." She also says "it was a short step to dismissing the entire corpus of children's literature as unworthy of consumption--not just by adults but, bizarrely, by children as well." She quotes one of the panelists, Howard Jacobson as saying, "If you're reading something not worth reading, don't read."

Well, here's my question for Mr. Jacobson: Who gets to decide what's worth reading? Or, to put it the way my mother used to: Who died and left you boss?

The "high-brow cultural" world, from what I can tell, is very adult-centric. The vibe I get from those folks is "Like what I like. Read what I read." And anything they don't like is without value. Which is exactly the kind of argument we in America try to teach our children to avoid.

Evidently the Brits have some big concern that their culture is being dumbed-down and these commentators were worried that reading children's books would hurry the job along. Not to worry. On our side of the pond we've been dumbed-down for years, and it hasn't hurt us.

Madline Travis is features editor and a reviewer for booktrusted.com, which looks like another site I'm going to want to check regularly.

Horn Book had other juicie stuff this issue. I'll probably be talking about it for days to come.

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