17 June 2009

The Merits of Children's Literature

Originally posted on The Classic Tales Message Board.

Somewhere along the line, with the rise of a cultural emphasis on childhood, literature changed. I am 30, so I grew up in a world of Dr. Seuss, Beverly Cleary and Scholastic Book sales. It never occurred to me as a child to read things like the stories that have comprised The Classic Tales. Those were full books that grown-ups read, not kids.

Looking at my cousins, niece and nephew, though, I cannot help but wonder the effect of children's literature on our young. It seems to me that the idea behind the genre is to present short, easy-to-read stories to young readers so as not to overwhelm them. Let them start with
On Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and work their way up to Ralph and the Motorcycle, and it is assumed that, from there, they will eventually find their way to Great Expectations.

Yet, it seems to me that instead, what has happened is that from
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish they have graduated to watching an adaptation of Ralph and the Motorcycle and then they are lost to a world of movies and video games. Even when something like the Harry Potter or Twilight series comes along, as profitable and as popular as those have been, it seems too many young ones are content to wait for the movies than to ever explore the literary source material.

Has literature done itself a disservice by dumbing down things so much to appeal to children? By eliminating much of the "controversial" elements, have children's books been made so toothless that they repel our youth rather than entice them?

I personally developed my passion for reading through comic books based on
G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero and The Transformers and what always attracted me to those was that the writing was more sophisticated than that of the animated series, especially the former. The animated series might have introduced me to Snake Eyes, but it was Larry Hama's comic book series that made me care about him.

Your thoughts?