Wednesday, December 27, 2006

What's This Thing Really About?

We're experiencing meltdown here at Chez Gauthier. Everything is falling apart, and I'm no longer able to read a Cybils book every twenty-four hours or so. Of course, we're at the point in the nominating process where we're about to draw blood as we fight over the final five, so the reading is just about done, anyway.

As a result, I took a little time off to read a New Yorker article I heard about through the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators listserv. Goodnight Mush was written by Elizabeth Kolbert, whose qualification for writing about children's books appears to be that she wrote a book about global warming.

I am always trying to write essays, myself, so when I read essays written by others I'm always obsessively studying them trying to determine message, ability to stay on topic, topic and concluding sentences for paragraphs, and other such boring things. Goodnight Mush starts out as if it's about bedtime story picture books, meaning books about children or characters going to bed. Then it moves on to what appear to be this year's picture books (though I don't really know), which may or may not include children or characters going to bed. I haven't read Walter the Farting Dog Goes on a Cruise but the description at Amazon doesn't say anything about bedtime for Walter. Though a couple of the books Kolbert discusses do involve someone going to sleep, they don't all seem to and thus...does this article stay on topic?

Kolbert's article ends with a longer discussion of the ultimate bedtime story, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. Though I've read Goodnight Moon aloud plenty of times, I can't say I've ever really seen what's the big deal about it. Not a whole lot of story there, if you know what I mean. So I was really fascinated by Kolbert's concluding paragraph in which she says, "Time moves forward, and the little bunny doesn't stand a chance. Parent and child are, in this way, brought together, on tragic terms. You don't want to go to sleep. I don't want to die. But we both have to."

Oh! Now I get it!

Interestingly enough, this conclusion to the article is about Goodnight Moon but does it conclude an article about other picture books?

I really am obsessed with essays.

Anyway, I find it very interesting that the New Yorker asked Kolbert to write this article because she really doesn't seem to like picture books. Okay, maybe she asked to write it, but, still, she really doesn't seem to like picture books. In her opening paragraph she asks "why do we tell stories to our children?" Her answer is, "In my experience, mostly it is to get them to shut up." She calls books instruments of control. "I will read this to you, and then you will go to sleep. End of story."

I'm not going to touch that.

This is the kind of article that gets kidlit people all riled up. In reality, it's not anything for us to get our knickers in a twist over. It's an article that isn't truly about anything, it's just a number of random shots at a topic.


Anonymous said...

Hi Gail! I'm glad your reading is done. We're done on the MG committee too, though still wrangling over the last 2 slots.

I also read the New Yorker article and it didn't even inspire me enough to write about it. It was just 5 pages of NOTHING.

Gail Gauthier said...

It generated some discussion on the NESCBWI listserv, and when I googled it, I found that it generated discussion elsewhere. But, really, it seemed pretty pointless and random.