I've not felt particularly festive this holiday season, but with time growing short, I finally went Christmas shopping for a nephew Dominick and a grand niece Talia. Because I'm Auntie Karen who always gives the worst gifts, I bought books. (Yeah, I do take pride in that.)
I make the effort to find books that will appeal to the recipients. However, today's blog isn't about the importance of teaching children to read or even to enjoy reading. It's about the type of literature commonly available.
Dominick is around 12 and Talia turns three years old. I discussed with my brother (Dominick's father) as to what he enjoyed reading and learned that Dominick reads at a high level, but doesn't necessarily comprehend what what he just read. He reads the words, but doesn't understand what they mean. "How about a graphic novel?" I asked, thinking of Archie and the Gang comics or the old-fashioned superhero comics. I thought maybe words accompanied by dramatic pictures would help him learn to enjoy reading with the pictures helping him to understand what he read. My brother allowed that a graphic novel might interest his son.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. So, let's try.
I headed to Dark Star Bookstore in Yellow Springs, OH. (I love shopping in Yellow Springs.) The bookshelves stocked with graphic novels revealed an interesting array of work, much of which I consider unsuitable for children. Several done in the Japanese manga style read right to left and began at what we in the Western World would consider the back of the book. Some of those looked suitable, but featured female heroines--Ruby ("RWBY") and Zelda--which I wasn't sure would appeal to Dominick. Boys tend to prefer male protagonists in their literary adventures. (I know, because I raised boys.) However, I found another that offered a collection of stories in graphic novel style. It looked along the lines of R. L. Stein's Goosebumps tales.
One present down. One more to go.
I figured Talia would be easier to buy for. Not necessarily ... and here's where the rant begins. With very few exceptions, the literature I found for young children focused on morality tales. Every story beat the child (and the adult reading it) about the head and shoulders with lessons in morality and tolerance.
Don't talk to strangers. Don't judge those who are different. Be kind to others. Share your most prized possessions. Those aren't bad messages, but not everything children read (or is read to them) needs to thump them over the head with public service announcements.
Does no one writing children's literature write just to entertain them? Is engaging a child's imagination and delighting him or her with sing-sing rhythm and delightful absurdity anathema?
What did I find that existed merely for the enjoyment of children? Nursery rhymes and fairy tales. You know, literature from centuries ago.
Talia's only three, so she should like the sing-song rhyming schemes of Mother Goose: "Sing a song of six-pence, pocket full of rye ..." Also being only three--and a girl--I thought that the more simply told fairy tales would appeal to her: The Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Puss in Boots. There's no flogging with lessons on morality, just good stories that have entertained people for uncounted generations.
Have we lost sight of the need for just good stories?