Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Children's Lit

Last night, I finished reading "The Tale of Despereaux" to my kids. To say I enjoyed it is to only tell part of the story: I relished every short chapter, I revelled in every delightful word. I listened attentively as the narrator personally addressed me, the reader, at every crux. It is a beautiful story of tragedy, chivalry, forgiveness, and moving on. I believe it is destined to be a classic among children's literature. However, I was left a bit disturbed.

"The Tale of Despereaux" like so many of it's contemporaries, delves into some very dark themes. I simply do not understand why most all kids books/films must have some allusion whether overt or implied to the abandonment or death of a parent. WHY!? Isn't the loss of a parent at the core of every child's fears? Isn't it the one fear that trumps all other fears?

As is well chronicled on this blog, I do not have a vast understanding of literature or it's reasons. Could someone please explain the purpose or the dead or deadbeat parent that is featured in most of the genre aimed at children.

Casting this disturbing element aside, I loved Despereaux. I want another book like it. Do you have any suggestions for a good read-aloud book for medium-aged kids? Leave me a comment. I am trying to get my writing/photographing groove back and I am inspired by conversation. Talk to you soon.....

5 comments:

Kimberly Rose Carolan said...

I remember my mom having the same concerns with children's literature when we were kids--it seemed that every story was about a parent's death or divorce, and she felt like that was too depressing for children. She even commented about that to the elementary school we attended. (Really, as a kid, I don't remember these stories and my brother probably doesn't either).

I suppose, though, the only redeeming thing would be for those kids who had experienced death of a parent or divorce. When I was a kid, probably half of my classmates had divorced parents and a handful had at least one deceased parent. Perhaps the stories help those kids feel less alone. I'm not sure, but that's my best guess.

Now as an adult with a deceased parent, I actually like those stories--they help me feel less alone, and I'm still a very positive person. But then again, I'm not a kid anymore :)

Kim Carolan
http://walkingthroughthevalleyoftheshadow.blogspot.com
www.strategicbookpublishing.com/walkingthroughthevalleyoftheshadowofdeath.html

Sharon Kieffer Steele said...

Kimberly,
Thank you for your comment. As I said before, I am inspired by lively conversation and so I appreciate your taking the time to leave a message.

I see what you mean about how these stories might speak to the heart of a child that may have experienced a loss in one form or another; be it death or abandonment. I actually love artistic forms that reach beyond the run-of-the-mill suburban, white, 2 parent/2 child model and perhaps give insight into a "different" reality. I think that is why Sesame Street has been so wildly successful. It's subjects have been anything but typical.

What I wonder is what exactly is the literary technique that involves the dead/missing/good-for-nothing parent. Am I th only one who is still traumatized by Bambi? It seems to go over my kids head, but they are still young. I would hate to have this theme whittle away their trust/faith in grownups. I suppose I would rather see a child in a book being raised by dedicated, loving grandparents than I would by disinterested, self-centered, fickle parents such as the ones in Despereaux. (Or Hoot, the last read-aloud book I read to my kids.)

Thanks again for your comment.
Sharon

Betty Duffy said...

You must be reading my mind lately. I was thinking about this very topic, only the opposite. I've read so many books that follow this model: "I'm different. But I'm special. So I'm going to like me just the way I am."

I was thinking how the stakes in children's books get lower and lower all the time, so that kids live in a world where there is no injustice, no suffering, no high stakes of any kind--which sets us up for adult attitudes of entitlement. I was reading a book from the sixties, "How to behave and Why" which says very clearly in more words than this: Act correctly or people won't like you.

That's the truth.

I don't know what's behind the parent thing, but it's been around forever: Snow white, Hansel and Gretel, mothers giving away their first born children to midgets named Rumplestilzskin. I think I read once that it plays on the primary fear and fantasy of every child: 1. fear being loss of a parent 2. Fantasy being independence from parent.

Sharon Kieffer Steele said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sharon Kieffer Steele said...

I think I read once that it plays on the primary fear and fantasy of every child: 1. fear being loss of a parent 2. Fantasy being independence from parent.

Betty,
You nailed it. See what happens when you actually read? You know stuff.

You can come to me if you want information on food, photography, beads, or how to do as little as possible and still call yourself a good parent - if I can come to you for situations such as this - literary devices and smart stuff. Deal?

Thanks again. Seriously. I want to respond to the first part of your comment because I feel like we might feel a bit differently about this - and I loooove that. But really, I am too tired to string my thoughts together and make them sound coherent. Plus, my mom is coming in tomorrow morning and we will be RUNNING for the weekend. But at some point - I would like to talk about Children's Fictional Characters. Someday...

What do you recommend for a good read-aloud. We are reading "Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing" right now and it is so boring I could poke my eyes out. I need a good one next.

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