Monday, December 05, 2005

Kidlit in the News

The Brits are still going on and on about Narnia. Perhaps nothing much is happening over there right now.

We, on the other hand, tend to drone on and on about what children's literature should be. In Reading Kids Books Without the Kids in The New York Times, Edward Rothstein objects to what he calls teen pulp.

He quotes Dr. Alison Gopnik, who he says is a cognitive scientist who has studied children's learning, as saying "that children read the way scientists work: they experiment with different ways of ordering the world, exploring alternate modes of understanding." But then he objects to teen pulp (which he doesn't actually define, by the way), because "Those books are meant to be close reflections of their readers, mirrors of their fantasies. The characters are just different enough from the readers to spur curiosity and sexual interest, and just similar enough to guarantee identification."

If by teen pulp Rothstein is talking about "realistic" teen fiction or what Moira Redmond at Slate calls dreadlit, then I think he's got it totally wrong. Books about teen angst and suffering definitely give teen readers an opportunity to explore alternative lives. Come on, how many real kids live like the teens in Looking for Alaska?

In the very next paragraph of his New York Times article, Rothstein says, "A great children's book, though, does not reflect the world or its reader. It plays within the world. It explores possibilities. It confounds expectations." Maybe to an adult that's a great children's book, but don't kids want to read about people like themselves just the way adults want to read about people like themselves? They may enjoy having their expectations confounded, but so do adults. We're not talking about something unique to children here.

Rothstein's take on kidlit seems like another example of romanticizing children and their reading. And there's something about romanticizing children that seems both patronizing and controlling to me.

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