Chapter Summaries 1 (pp. 11-43)

Raychel Trevino - LSSL 5393 - Dr. Lesesne

Chapter 1. Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children's LIterature

Times have changed. Dramatically. Some may think that books for children have always been and should always be the equivalent of a soft comfy blanket. If you've been to the children's section of a bookstore lately, you'll see that many selections are exactly that. In chapter one we discover that Theodore Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) described the fans of these types of books as having a "fluffy bunny mentality" (pg. 6). However, the first popular children's selections often were meant to be educational and carried lessons in character education that couldn't be farther from comforting or cutesy. In reading the content of these first children's books, I was transported back to my own childhood where it was culturally accepted to get kids to bed by warning them of the "Viejo con el costal," which translates to the old man with a sack that would roam neighborhoods at night looking for children who were still awake to put in his sack and drag away forever. There wasn't anything cozy about him either.

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Rocking the Boat to Soothe the Child

Let's go back to viewing the selections In today's world of children's literature. Thankfully, we see an array of books described by the authors as "subversive, thought-provoking, and life-changing" (pp. 7). Not all books were written within the last couple of months however. There are many books that were written in the past reflecting the times in which they were written. Dr. Seuss was famous for having underlying messages. His Yertle the Turtle spoke of the evils of dictatorship and the power of having and USING your voice. The Butter Battle Book spoke of the dangers of arms wars, and the small-mindedness of those who felt safer having the most dangerous weaponry. The best part of that book was the fact that the final line left the decision in the reader's hands - most of whom were children. Talk about critical thinking!

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Children today need authors to rock the boat, and write more than cute whimsical stories. Kids need to know that it's okay to be different, that not all parents, including maybe theirs, aren't the best choice for guardians, or to have a unique family unit, and that fitting in isn't always "fitting." The authors that are speaking these truths through their characters are giving children who are reading their stories a validity that might just make all the difference in the world. It's worth the struggle, the criticism, and the threat of censorship.

Chapter 2. "There Should Not Be Any 'Should' in Art": Subversive Children's Literature

A Boy Named Stru

In the past, books were children were mostly meant to instruct: educationally, religiously, and morally. Few were meant to entertain. As time passed, so did the days of slim pickings for children. The books became more fun, creative, and free. All that creative freedom led to authors sneaking in serious topics in the guise of children's books. One such book is Munro Leaf's The Story of Fredinand which was published in 1936 in the midst of World War II. Ferdinand, the story's main character, is a gentle peaceful bull who refuses to fight. While the author insisted that he had no ulterior motive other than to write a story his friend and illustrator could express himself with, we find that adults were finding a message between the lines written for children.


Unfortunately, these adult "messages" have led many people to become overly critical of children's literature. Their over-analyzing of works has created controversy that undoubtedly has the author's baffled. Doreen Cronin's Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type is a perfect example. While the story offers a great lesson on working together and the impact of being able to articulate concerns (not to mention fantastic vocabulary opportunities for teachers), it is far fetched that Cronin was trying to instill in children that they should all be liberal Democrats.


However, we should still keep an out for those wily authors who know how to multi-task and write one story for two audiences.

Won't Someone PLEASE Think of the Children?

In this section, we learn about how children are drawn to the idea of being in parent-less world, where the kids are in charge for a change. Because they have so little control over what occurs in their life at this stage, they like the independence found in fantastical stories. What seems to have adults concerned, however, are books, such as Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are that center around children that aren't afraid to express their negative feelings towards parental figures - or adults period.


These types of books were criticized for possibly corrupting children's behavior, much like the violence in video games are today. But does it? Margret Talbot's son helped her to see it best through the works of Roald Dahl. Children like to see children in books triumph over adults by making good sensible decisions that adults are too narrow minded to understand until the end of the story when the child prevails.

The Bad Boys of Playboy

Shel Silverstein and Tomi Ungerer were two author/illustrators who lived in the world of adults but worked in world of children, and found that they couldn't have their cake and eat it too. Parents didn't want a potential pervert passing along ideas to their offspring through their literature. At least that was the (open and shut) case for Ungerer. Silverstein had a little better luck, and remained a favorite among children with his funny (Where the Sidewalk Ends) and sometimes sentimental (The Giving Tree) works. Not an easy feat considering he plastered huge unsettling photos of himself on the back covers of his books.

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Magazine

MAD Magazine was the first comic book that children could buy that made a parody of the adult world and everything in it including the government and heads of state. It created quite a stir among adults who considered this magazine just as taboo as Playboy. Children were moving from books on how to be a lady or gentleman in a socially conservative world, to a magazine that basically said that they shouldn't take all the adults seriously because a lot of them were total idiots. Needless to say, the kids LOVED it!


This magazine carried with it a very important lesson: question everything. Children weren't assuming that because an adult "said so" that it was true.


MAD Magazine influenced the world of children's literature in an entirely different way. The parody of beloved sappy children's classics was born. Thankfully, everyone loved them. Both the fans of the original works, and those that couldn't stomach them gobbled these new versions up. These "silly" stories actually provided children with an opportunity to see that there are always two sides to every story, and that point of view can completely change a situation that seemed black and white in the original story.


Jon Scieszka is one such author that has become famous by taking a classic tale and turning it on its ear (with the help of Lane Smith's illustrations). He took the concept from Mad Magazine and has written many books himself, such as The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, and The Frog Prince, Continued. Scieszka's books have taken on the role that MAD once had on earlier generations. The difference is that today's parents were the fans of the magazine so these books are hits with children and parents alike.

Please Don't Eat the Hero & The Kids Are OK

While it isn't a new trend entirely, many of children's books today are mirroring life's realities. Life isn't always fair. Everyone dies. You don't always win. Sometimes a situation stinks, and there's nothing you can do about it except laugh it off. As the authors point out Beatrix Potter wrote of Peter's dad being cooked in a pie by the farmer's wife. It happens, and then you move on.


Somewhere between Potter and Boni Ashburn's Hush, Little Dragon published in 2008 (that has a dragon eating villagers), a new school of thought was born. Child psychologists insisted that children must be protected at all costs. They were all winners - just for trying. Thus, the birth of the Participant trophy - many of which were the same size as the first place trophy. These psychologists may have changed the behavior of parents, but children remained being as inquisitive as they were before. And let's be honest, most kids know that a participant trophy still means they lost, therefore children's literature should offer an opportunity to get glimpses of real life and see that you can move on even when there isn't a "happily ever after."

Photo Credits: Book covers and author photos taken from Amazon.com, all other photos came from morgueFile.com