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Monday, July 16, 2007

Why Children's Literature isn't to be taken lightly

Adam: (sniffing in near-disgust) "Why bother studying children's literature? It's for kids. It's not meant to be interpreted as deeply as adult texts."

Karen and her sister: "WHAT?!"

Karen's sister is doing her Masters in Children's Literature. In fairness to my husband, he was saying that just to get a rise-up. We took the bait.

Here's one reason why children's texts are important.

John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat is one year older than me. Published in 1977, it won the 1978 Picture Book of the Year from the Children's Book Council of Australia. I think it is in every school library in the country. I sure remember reading it first at school anyway, then I saw it the other day in our library and borrowed it for Keira.

Here's a synopsis:

This classic picture book is about jealousy, but is also about learning to give over through love. Rose and her Old English Sheepdog, John Brown, live contentedly together. They need only each other. When the midnight cat appears outside their home, John Brown refuses even to admit its existence. He comes to realise that the cat is important to Rose and to allow it in the house, even though it makes him sad. The cat is mysterious and possibly sinister, and John Brown's reactions may even have been right the first time. Nevertheless, his love for Rose prevails, and he puts her needs first. A strange little fable, but quite beautiful in both words and pictures. (Source)

That just didn't sit right with me. I mean, yes, that's what the book is about, but I was sure there was something deeper. You finish the story and there's something haunting about it. I mentioned this to my sister, who, with her expertise, was able to fill me in.

"Yes, I remember reading about this," she said. "Listen to the names. John Brown - he was Queen Victoria's kinsman/saddler/companion after the Prince Regent died. So, the dog is him.
Rose, who was Victoria's nickname of sorts, is her. So John Brown is protecting her."

"So what does the midnight cat represent?"

We thought about this.

"I think it's death," I said. "At the end, right, she wants to let death inside but John Brown won't let it come in until he too realises he can't protect her from death forever. So the cat comes in and sits by the fire, waiting."

Get it guys. Read it. See if you agree.

This is why kids need to read. To grasp onto a narrative; come to their own interpretation, to become active thinkers and logicians. Just because our reading might (I admit) be a bit much for others to swallow doesn't de-legitimise the deduction in the first place.

It's also for the eternal child in all of us. In the screening of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on the weekend, it was the adults at the back of the theatre who cheered loudly for Gary Oldman as Sirius as he boldly jumped out into the fray at the climax, and I admit, I was one of them too. I wanted to be a member of the Order. I want access to, and placement at, Hogwarts.

I want us all that chance to keep dreaming.

And it starts with those few words on the page; a powerful picture accompaniment; for the magic to begin.

Comments on "Why Children's Literature isn't to be taken lightly"


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (9:16 am) : 

For a less subtle story for children with Old English Sheepdogs as the main characters, check out WiggleBus.com

There are 4 books in the series so far and they talk about adoption, death and life as a sheepie :D

Good luck
Ron, A friend of The WiggleBus


Blogger Jaycee said ... (11:02 am) : 

I too agree that children's lit is vital for kids. I was and still am an avid reader. Enid Blyton was my first author I became addicted to.

I studied children's lit at uni and it was how I was introduced to Harry Potter before the craze started.


Blogger Miss Eagle said ... (7:49 pm) : 

I became a librarian the year this book was published. I sometimes wonder about kids' books though. Some humour and references could only be understood by adults. If I had enough time, money and space I would collect children's books.

Blessings and bliss


Blogger Joh said ... (9:38 pm) : 

I love childrens books also and whilst I have always been a big reader, I have totally enjoyed reading childrens and young adult books since becoming a teacher 7 years ago. I didn't realise how amazing they are.


Blogger Her Bad Mother said ... (12:19 am) : 

Hear, hear. Children's lit is the building block for a love of reading, a love of words, a love of STORY.


Blogger mcewen said ... (3:10 am) : 

Have you re-read the Water BAbies lately by Charles Kingsley?
Best wishes


Blogger Jean-Luc Picard said ... (5:03 am) : 

It is indeed a vital springboard to other literature. Children's work can have more imagination as well.


Blogger Pickel said ... (1:22 am) : 

I have my masters in young adult literature but studied kiddie lit as well. Love it and the messages it brings.

Thanks for the adoption link.


Blogger Debbie Reese said ... (9:52 pm) : 

They're important, too, for the ways they contribute to perceptions and more importantly, the misperceptions, of those who are not like you.

That is the intent of my blog, American Indians in Children's Literature, located at americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com

I am Pueblo Indian, a professor, mother, former schoolteacher... In the US, you are many times more likely to see us misrepresented in books for children than you are to us in any realistic way.

I'm curious to know how your indigenous population is represented in your children's books.


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