We need to take children’s books seriously

Good literature is fundamental to young people's development. We must not devalue it.

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Editorials

October 11, 2021 - 8:13 AM

Jessy Coffield, Iola preschool teacher, reads to children at Ready Set Learn preschool Wednesday as Sheri Orear, owner, watches. The Dolly Parton Imagination Library recognizes the value of reading to children from birth to age 5 and will now send free, high-quality books to every child in Allen County each month, courtesy of the Iola Rotary Club and Talk, Read, Play Allen County. Photo by Vickie Moss

Good children’s literature is a serious business. Not serious as in boring or “improving,” but serious in attention and ambition, serious about beauty and wonder, about engaging the brain but also the heart, about sadness and difficulty, but also about silliness and joy. Above all, it is serious about the legitimacy of a child’s world — which is a world away from being childish.

Good children’s books, from picture books to 500-page novels, can be seriously hard to write. Mark Haddon published 17 books before “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” His wise and beautiful “The Sea of Tranquility” took two years and 50 drafts, 50,000 words becoming 500. “Which seems,” he has written, “like a fair trade. If kids like a picture book, they’re going to read it at least 50 times, and their parents are going to have to read it with them. Read anything that often and even minor imperfections start to feel like gravel in the bed.”

But there are concerns that this is being forgotten. In a recent manifesto for The Foundling Museum, the former children’s laureate Lauren Child spoke of her concern about “a common, and lazy, assumption that creating work with children in mind is easier or less demanding, and that a writer or artist would approach it with a lesser degree of seriousness or sincerity than when creating for an adult audience.”

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