Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Kids' Books

One of the few advantages of living in the industrial neighborhood of North Minneapolis, when I was younger and our boys were little, was that the main Salvation Army warehouse and store was only a block away. Lots of cool stuff, some of it really old (I picked up a Hogarth print which was engraved in 1756!), some of it new (lots of Star Wars toys before they were collectible) and all of it cheap. Especially books for children. Rarely more than a quarter, and the selection was fabulous. When I was a child in the fifties, children's books were, for the most part, dull and drab, written in the twenties or thirties, and generally ignored. Dr. Seuss and A.A. Milne were notable exceptions that proved the rule. In the late sixties and early seventies there was an explosion of color and perceptive story-telling in the genre- Maurice Sendak, James Marshall, Shel Silverstein, Chris Van Allsburg, and many others redefined what a book for young readers could be. International favorites (Tin Tin!) had been translated and were readily available.

Later on, in the eighties and nineties, it seemed that these "plums" had been lost in a bowl of "politically correct" and educator-approved pablum. It was not surprising that J.K. Rowling had so much success with her books (aimed at older readers, to be sure) when they incorporated realistic emotional and psychological landscapes among the magical ones. There are always good books being written, but it seems that lately, in the case of the younger readers, they are drowned in a sea of merchandise tie-ins and Disney dreck.

Recently I had an opportunity to shop for some young readers, it was fun to hunt for the old "faves" in used book shops and thrift stores, even if I had to put up with a rash of "Celebrity Author" titles. Paul McCartney? Madonna? MICKEY DOLENZ?! I found most of the ones that our children had enjoyed (enjoyed so much as to have been long since destroyed), with only a few (The Giant Jam Sandwich, Light-Foot and Quick-Foot) eluding my efforts. Rereading them, I found them just as good as I had remembered them.

So here's to you kids... Jói, Valli, may you refresh your English with them, enjoy the stories, and delight in the art. And, if they're still readable when you are through with them, pass them on to other readers, or better yet, read them to younger children. The magic they possess is real, better than anything Harry Potter can conjure up.

By Professor Batty


Blogger lab munkay said...

Beautiful family. Beautiful post,

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do "celebs" believe that they can write for children?
I so agree with you about every thing you wrote.
There are thousands of books out there but you have to plough through them to find the good ones.
My Little One sold her vast library to our primary school for 10p each (that is what a shop would give us) and the delight of the children and the teachers still lives with me!

Blogger Darien Fisher-Duke said...

Lovely post, Batty! You mentioned a lot of our favorites too. Your comments about the celebrity/PC/merchandise crap is right on. As my younger friends have children, I often find myself ordering "classics" from Amazon, because bookstores don't have much selection. Thanks for solving the mystery from your previous post, too :-)
Our attic is full of these gems. Someday, they'll be read again!

Blogger Professor Batty said...

LM~ Thank you.

Mary~ Annie went through these books with me as I was packing them, she told a few good stories of her own experience with children's books when she was young (and discovered a few new delights.)

Rose~ it really is a great thing to witness when a youngster "gets it" and takes off on their own in the world of reading.

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