Category Archives: Child_lit Archive

Farewell Child_lit – You’re No One’s Baby

Over at SLJ’s Blogsphere, Betsy Bird (Fuse#8 Production) documented the pending demise of Child_lit Listserv, hosted at the Rutgers Email server and has been “owned” and run by Rutgers Rare Books librarian Michael Joseph for more than 20 years.

I was among the earliest subscribers to child_lit (mid-1990s) and served as its occasional archivist in those days, publishing (with permission) discussion threads on various Children’s Lit topics from “Love You Forever: Funny or Repulsive?” to “Tikki Tikki Tembo and Cultural Accuracy in Folktales” — those were the “good old days” when fewer people found their way to online discussion boards and no pervasive social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter or even many personal websites/blogs.

Children’s Literature lovers, authors, publishing folks, and scholars found each other and we built a communal Home on child_lit.  Michael Joseph took on the responsibility of hosting and running the listserv and as Child_lit neared its end, many many subscribers expressed their gratitude to him in having maintained such a wonderful place for all of us through these many years.  I am among the grateful list members!  Michael and I have known each other through Child_lit (as many others, like Monica Edinger, Cheryl Klein, Patrice Kindl, Jane Yolen, Philip Pullman, Linnea Hendrickson, and Pooja Makhijani, and so on…) for more than two decades and I have so much respect for him as a scholar and friend.  However, as Michael pointed out in his “decision paper” on August 21st to the list members, with conversations about children’s and YA books being all over the internet and Child_lit (in his view) has lost its scholarly/academic luster, Michael decided that it’s time to shutter the windows and lock the doors.

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 7.09.11 PM

Screen shot of child_lit About Page

This decision greatly saddened me.  Child_lit is not a collection of lifeless pixels housed on cold and heartless email servers.  It is a community and a place of connection of people who are interested in exploring the world through children’s literature — even if perhaps the style of the discussion has evolved and changed.  I did not want this place to disappear.  So I took action.

In the past week, I contacted various folks at Rutgers, posted a Survey on child_lit to gauge members’ interest (which is high) in maintaining this virtual Home.  Finally, I found a professor at Rutgers who graciously agreed to help maintain the listserv for a while until we can find a new Owner of the listserv.  However, when I brought this solution to Michael, I discovered that Michael’s mind was firmly made up and he will not allow for the transferring of the “virtual deed” (which could be easily accomplished.)

I wrote this on Child_lit today and would continue pondering on “who owns what we collectively build” in the online/virtual world.

Farewell Child_lit – You’re No One’s Baby

A list member said to me that she has no problem with Michael terminating Child_lit because, after all, it is His Baby, and he has every right to do whatever he wishes with it.

Although I am in no way angry at Michael for not wanting to continue “owning” child_lit because it no longer matches his original vision of the discourse, I found this notion of child_lit, which belongs, in my view, to the entire child_lit community and even to the entire children’s literature community because we often take what we learn from here to our daily children’s lit. practices.

The analogy of “the baby” makes me wonder about how we view intellectual products in the age of online engagement and how we treat “virtual real estate” and “virtual ownership.” It also makes me chuckle: I have a real life human daughter who is younger than Child_lit (18) and by now, I no longer think of her as My Baby, and can no longer dictate how she manages and conducts her life. I’m giving advice, yes. I’m helping her out when she needs, yes. But, I will never tell her that I’m pulling every support away from her because she has irked me or not being a replica of myself. (She just started college and is making course choices that surprise me!) So the idea that because we, collectively, have disappointed Michael and he has tired of the ownership of the list, we, collectively, will lose our virtual community (home/real estate) still does not sit squarely with me.

That said, if this is indeed the FINAL DAY OF CHILD_LIT — farewell, friends old and new. We shall meet and find each other somewhere else :)

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Filed under Child_lit Archive

Love You Forever: Funny or Repulsive?

A recent NYT article about THE GIVING TREE sparked much online discussion in the children’s literature world. Which reminded me that we had a heated discussion on Child_lit years ago on another Love or Hate book: LOVE YOU FOREVER by Robert Munsch. The discussion thread was archived by me with permission of online publication from all participants at the time for my original Fairrosa Cyber Library site which is slowly migrating to here.


These email exchanges on the listserv occured in March & April of 1995.
All rights reserved for individual contributors.


 

  • Dian Maureen Borek: Hi!I would like to go on record as one of those sentimental types that love Love You Forever. My only comment is as follows: let us not forget that although we often think of reading in static terms – (the art form is has been described as linear)- it is in fact a dynamic medium. What one gets out of books can be directly related to what we bring to them as readers. Our background, personality and other reading experiences are always part of our reading experience. I am an overly affectionate individual (I “hugga-lot”). Such an open display of affection, in Love You Forever, is not everyone’s “cup of tea.” Also, sometimes personal experiences can be intrusive in our reading interpretations. I do not believe that the work is meant to be taken so literally – ie driving across town and sneaking into a grown man’s bedroom- it is a metaphorical statement of a love that cannot be excluded by physical boundaries.Remember, Robert Munsch wrote this book for his still- born child. After several miscarriages he and his wife are now the proud parents of some ‘chosen’ children.

    Speaking of bringing outside experiences, I enjoyed the Giver but could not escape the similarities of other pieces of literature that struck me as marring the originality of the work. To name only one- the memories experiences of Aila in Clan of the Cave Bear were very similar to the Giver’s memories as was the method of sharing. Recognizing our own biases makes our reading experiences richer- but only if we acknowledge them. This whole exercise could be a good insight into reader’s perceptions and the big part they play in the critiquing of any literature. I guess the lesson is to realize these different perspectives exist. Afterall – who knows what experiences our young readers bring with them into the library? What might be fairly innocuous to us could be traumatic for them. Just some thoughts to keep in mind during any reader’s advisory we may give to our young patrons.

  • Jane Yolen: I am a hugger, too. I am sentimental. I am gooey over my first grandchild. I adore my grown children. BUTI find LOVE YOU FOREVER to be about an incredibly dysfunctional family, with a mother who infantilizes her child, invades his private space, never can say “I love you” when he is awake, and even when he is grown manages his life. I am convinced she drugs his cocoa, otherwise why does he sleep so soundly when she crawls (!) into his room and picks him up every single night.And when the teenage daughter awakes one night and finds her father holding her in his lap, she is going to call 911.

    Nope–this one is a very dangerous book. IMHO. And not at all amusing.

  • Emily Carton: I find I’ll Love you Forever an incredible loving book. As as parent, I understood the mother’s absolute love of her child, the necessity to let him go, and the desire to always hold him as her baby. And as a geriatric social worker, I thought the son’s understanding of his mother and his ultimate sensitivity to her and love for her that at the end translated to the next generation was an optimistic and loving portrayal of what can happen between parents and children ( although often it does not). As a parent, I read it to my children, a son and daughter, who intuitively and then later intellectually understood it. For months they had me read it over and over again. And to add a parting note, the first several time my husband read it, he had tears in his eyes. It might be “creepy,” to some. But to us, it spelled Love in a very deep and all too honest way.
  • Heather Wallace: Robert Munsch is one of the best children’s authors around as fa r as I am concerned. Please remember, not all books or stories have to have a moral to them — some can just be plain fun. most of Bob Munsch’s are. And if you have ever had the opportunity to see him tell his stories in front of children, (I luckily have!) you would be amazed at the response by the children. His stories are often repetitive, (children love it — they can help tell the story too), and many are ridiculous (another thing kids LOVE). I’ll love you forever, in my opinion, is not a story about a dysfunctional family, nor is it creepy, it is a story about a mother who loves her son. And he in turn loves his new daughter. If anuthing it is a wonderful story about loving your family. I don’t think we need to”read” anything more into it.And just to mention MY personal favorites: Do read Mortimer, the Paper Bag Princess, Pigs, and Show and Tell. they are all wonderful.
  • Emily Carton: Jane: where in the book to you find the signs of dyfunctional? In what ways is the osn not an ordinarly boy, teenager, adult? The mother, to me, is talking about her internal life and love of her child. She doesn’t stop him from being the crazy teenager, the messy kid – one who wouldn’t ever let a mom hug them. She loves him even when she couldn’t make contact with him. I saw her actions, more about her feelings – than literally do anything to interfere with his life. She always allowed herself those obsessive feelings at times when they could not possibily interfere with her son’s life. If the son were dysfunctional, he wouldn’t have moved out of the house. She would have literally held on. And what about his caring of her when she is old and alone. To me, as a geriatric social worker, children who do give their parents that kind of support in old age, have turned out to be quite remarkable people who feel that they had been given so much and want to give back. Most of my clients have children who run in the opposite direction.
  • Jane Yolen: You want disfunctional? I’ll give you dysfunctional–and I am not alone in my assessment Most of the booksellers, authors, children’s lit teachers, and librarians I know feel the same way.1. She never can say “I love you” when the child is awake. When he is awake she calls him an animal, thinks he should be in the zoo, etc. But late at night, when he is asleep, THEN she says “love you forever.”2. Late at night when he is asleep, she crawls into his room. Every bloody night of his life! CRAWLS????? If you do not find that creepy….3. Now I have raised three children, and after the child reached a certain age, one does not go into his/her room without permission. It really is a violation. Besides, have you ever tried even WALKING across a 10-17 year old’s floor? Floor?

    What floor? Unless you have an exceptionally neat child, you will meet some very odd things: old tuna fish sandwiches that have gone to argot heaven, pieces of board games, lost homework, left socks, dirty books, and I could go on. Walking is hard. CRAWLING?????

    4. The child never wakes during this every-night expedition. AND the child is always there. Never sneaks out. Never stays up later than the mother. Never goes to a friend’s house–or has a friend over. Never falls asleep downstairs in front of the tv.

    5. Then the mother blackmails her son when he grows up. And still infantilizes him every night by driving across town to climb into his upstairs window (this is extrapolated from the picture) and rock him. Ugh. Gives me the shudders.

    Then calls him up and says “I’m old and sick and you have to take care of me.” Or words to that effect. Controlling. Laying on the guilt.

    6. He runs off, leaving his (unseen) wife. We know she is around because he comes home to his own little baby daughter asleep upstairs. My guess is that she is standing in the doorway when he gets the call and stage whispers at him: “If you go over to that manipulating old bitch’s one more time, I am out of here!”

    I mean, how many times can that poor wife stand the old woman crawling in her bedroom window and picking up her husband and rocking him. Sick? I should think. Unless, of course, they sleep in separate bedrooms and she, too, has had her cocoa drugged.

    Am I exaggerating? Well, maybe my sense of humor does not match Bob Munch’s on this. I like some of his other work. But the reasons this one has been picked up (and is THE most popular book for “children” in America) by mothers and grandmothers makes me cringe.

  • Graciela Italiano: I subscribed to childlist about a week ago and have enjoyed many of the discussions. Being that I am very busy writing my dissertation at the moment I had promised myself no to get “too involved” in the topics and just watch what others were saying (cybervoyeurism?). Anyway, my silent period is over since I have to comment on the ongoing discussion about I’ll love you forever. I could not agree more with Jane Yolen’s response to the book.I am not that much of a hugger, but I do know true intimacy in my life, In my opinion this book suffers from terminal sentimentalism in much the same way soap operas do. Since when do we judge the quality of a book by the fact the it makes us cry? I think there is a difference between a good book which touches us deeply because it has reached that core of humanity we all share through our emotions and a superficially unreflective book which appeals to our sentiments (shallow feelings). I appreciated the comments about Munsch’s other books which I will make an effort an to see now.
  • Dian Maureen Borek: Hi:I have really opened up a can of worms here and I apologize I am sensing a rising level of emotion that is not constructive.However, please do not say MOST librarians because this is an unsubstantiated vague statement not supported by my experiences and I am in the profession. One other point – you might be interested to know the bulk of the sales of this book are not for children as one might expect – but rather to adults for adults. It is given as a gift. I have seen the stats on this recently, but I forget which article – check with the publisher.Enough, can we agree to disagree?
  • Jane Buchanan: Jane: I was wondering when you’d weigh in on this!There was a recent article (in the New York Times Book Review?) that discussed the strong feelings people have about this book, on both sides. The author wondered whether, if the illustrations were different, the response would be different.I agree with you, Jane, on every point on this book. My New Hampshire writers group could collectively go on for hours tearing this book apart. (And frequently did.) I do think some of the issues have to do with the illustrations (some of which don’t even fit the text). And I find it appalling that it is the best selling children’s book in America.I was having a (loud) discussion with a book store owner about it a few years ago, and an older woman came into the store. “What book are you talking about?” She asked. “I think I’ll buy it.” Aarrgh!
  • Russ Hunt: I absolutely agree with Jane Yolen about this book. BUT . . . as a teacher of literature, I’m presented over and over with the situation I see on this list: perfectly reasonable people, whose intelligence I must respect, think that a book I believe to be, well, repellent at best and dangerous at worst is just fine. And they often ask me, as someone whose opinion, in turn, they respect, “don’t you think [insert your least favorite title here] is a wonderful book?”I’m probably a coward. I beg off. I change the subject (“Here, have you seen _Owl Moon_? It’s a wonderful book about parental love.”) I don’t see what I can say about _Love You Forever_ that would actually be useful. Even on a list like this one I think voicing my view of _LYF_ — or the children’s books students often pick up in the supermarket — may do more harm than good; with my students I’m simply stopped cold.Anybody else have this problem?I have this problem with students who adore Stephen King.
  • Michelle Lane: I think this book can be read on many levels, and everyone is going to bring their own interpretation to it. I personally like the actual message, which is “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always”. If you overanalyze it, you lose that. I think you can ruin many things by by overanalysis. Some things are just to be taken at face value, and that’s that. I am not saying this is true for all things, of course, but for this book, that’s how I approach it. I first heard it in junior high, when a teacher of mine read it to us, and said “as long as we’re living, our teacher he’d be.” Of course he didn’t sneak into our rooms at night, or anything like that, he just meant simply what he said, that he’d be our teacher for always.I don’t think there is any right or wrong interpretation, it’s a personal reaction to the book. I suppose to get the intended meaning from the author, ask the author! Maybe the real value of the book is the varied interpretations it allows. Who knows…
  • Emily Carton: Jane, I do not understand why you read this book so literally and refuse to entertain the idea that the book is talking about the mother’s internal life. The book is not about what she expresses directly to her son but what she feels about him. As a mother, she certainly expresses both the unconditional love she has for him and the insanity he creates in her life. I don’t know any mother who hasn’t felt both extremes about her own children. My children understood instantly that this book was about feelings – just as they understand that fairy tales are not literal. I see the crawling of the mother as methaphor, as a wish. This is about love – not the reality of growing up. And if my husband’s mother was as loving to him as this mother was to hers and if she were old and dying, I can’t imagine that I would object to his leaving to rock her. I once had a client-daughter who took care of her dying mother and her response to me when I said what she was doing was amazing was “my mother wiped my butt when I was helpless, now I will do it for her.” I really can’t understand the level of intense anger – nearly rage that a book about loving – a metaphor about the possibilities of intense love and exhasperation that a child bring into one’s life could create. My children’s teacher’s loved it – the class loved it. They knew that even while the mother was saying look at this zoo – her feeling for her son was only one of love. I’ve said to my children theirs rooms are trash dumps etc. etc.. I have said all kinds of things to them that I’d never thought I would say, but feel normal after having said them. The book, in my mind was never about her talking to him. It is about her internal life. If you want to read more into it, then I would say even if she didn’t articulate I love you directly obviously the son knew. He cradles his own daughter the way she cradled him. In my own heart, I wish, I could crawl into my children’s room and watch them sleep as they did as babies – it is the re-creation of the loviest of memories. To me, there in not one shred of hate in that book. When she calls and says I am old and sick she is telling him the truth. To me ,she is saying come now, for it is going to be over soon. He goes to her but returns home to the next generation. I saw no guilt. Just honesty. Never in the book did she ask anything more of him. Why when most children’s books are interpreted methaphorically, or filled with fantasy, is this book views in the most literal of terms?
  • Elizabeth H Wiley: Thank you Russ Hunt and Jane Yolen. I like the solution of OWL MOON. I am amazed that anyone needs this sort of appalling, artless, slop to illustrate love of a child. Since Mr. Munsch is capable of better, I really wish he would retract this book and do another. Obviously the public is not capable of insisting upon it.Sat, 1 Apr 1995, Jane BuchananYes, Beth, I agree too. I think one of the biggest issues for some of us is, there are other books that do “the love thing” so much better.
  • Michael Levy: How do you deal with students who think Love You Forever is wonderful? I seem to be faced with this problem at least once per semester. Just yesterday, when my Early Childhood Education majors were supposed to bring in an excel- lent example of Contemporary Realistic Fiction, two of them brought in LYF. Totally aside from the question of whether or not it’s a good book, one wonders what kind of home they came from if they think it’s realistic!

    Anyway, what I tell them is the truth. That it’s a controversial book. That the world is divided into two kinds of people–those who hate LYF and those who love it. I explain why it’s hated and, to the best of my ability, why it’s liked. I make it clear that there are two sides to the question, but I then tellthem that I’m one of the people that hate it.

    I use basically the same approach for The Rainbow Fish, The Giving Tree, and a few other books.

    Are there any other books that people tend have this kind of radically differentfeeling about?

  • Emily Carton: Jane, By calling it “the love thing,” sounds very cynical about books that deal with love. I am only saying this because it weakens your intended message, which, although I don’t agree with was presently very strongly.
  • Shahnaz C Saad: Hello!I think the person who pointed out that _Love You Forever_ is *not* realistic fiction raised an excellent point. Obviously, it’s highly unlikely that a mother would creep into her grown son’s bedroom to rock him and sing him a lullaby. I think it’s a humorous book about a mother’s love for her son, not a book about things that did or could really happen. The total unreality of the situation is part of the book’s charm, and I enjoy the fact that the book acknowledges that we can love our family members even when they are driving us crazy. I could go on, but I’ll stop now…
  • Jane Yolen: Be aware that there are two Janes posting–Jane Buchanan (who said the”love thing”) and Jane Yolen (who did not.)Both Janes however dislike LOVE YOU FOREVER.I have no problem with the message that parents love their children forever. And like them. (Though not always!) My problem is with the presentation of the message. And even Munsch thought this a funny book and is puzzled by its success. I also heard–gossip, gossip–that when the book became such a phenom, the publisher wanted to use a different illustrator and Munsch refused, feeling that the illustrator deserved to be as much a part of it as he.That being said, I have to tell you that when I was teaching children’s lit, I would tell my students (this is pre LOVE YOU FOREVER days) that during the course of the semester, I was probably going to step on some of their most favorite books. But I would tell them why. And if they still loved that book–and could defend it with the critical tools I hoped they developed from the course–I had no problem with that. After all, not everyone liks ALICE IN WONDERLAND or PRIDE & PREJUDICE or REMEBRANCES OF THINGS PAST. (I only like one of the three!)

    The books I would then step on were THE GIVING TREE and THE VELVETEEN RABBIT which–of course–always brought gasps of dismay from some of the students.

  • elaine ostry: Hello:Leaving the merits of Munsch aside, I’d just like to say that schlock goes down very well, in my experience, with small children. Children need to hear explicitly from their parents and other loved ones that they are loved; they havne’t built up that ego (that is hopefully confidence and unfortunately can be cynicism insted) that adults have to deal with their feelings of vulnerability.I bring this up because this discussion reminded me of an incredibly sappy book called Wishes that my Dad used to read to me when I was very young (I can just barely remember this). He always ended by extemporizing–‘what do you wish for?’ and ‘here’s what I wish for you-” It was a very important ritual though the book itself is nothing much. Maybe that’s one reason I Love You Forever is so popular: it gives parents a chance to, through the story, be loving to their kids.
  • Bonita Kale: I don’t see how you can argue about LYF. It seems to be a pure gut reaction, either way. I picked it up in a bookstore and nearly barfed, I loathed it so much– and this was without considering it deeply, without even thinking about whether the family was dysfunctional or anything. Just instant revulsion. Other people seem to have the opposite idea.On the other hand, when The Rainbow Fish came in to the children’s room, my reaction was “ho hum”, and I’m surprised that anyone would care enough one way or another to argue about it. Just a gimmick book, I thought, with cute little holographic scales. Boring. I suppose you could make a message out of it, besides the sharing message, but I wouldn’t care enough to try.Different strokes…
  • Sharyn November: Didn’t we have this same discussion weeks ago? Can we please move on? I for one would rather discuss, for example, various portrayals of the elderly — LOOP THE LOOP and MEMORY and so forth.But, for the record, I think LOVE YOU FOREVER is disturbing, and the art is horrendous. On an intellectual level I understand why people respond to it, but my visceral response is very different. Children have enough problems with privacy — can you imagine believing that one’s mother will sneak into one’s room until one is 40? (I showed the book to my mother and she said, “OK, I won’t drive across town at 4 AM and spy on your brother.” He was very relieved, and thanked me. So did his girlfriend.)
  • Monica R. Edinger: I teach fourth grade and first came across LYF when a student brought it to school to read at the end of the day. The child read it aloud beautifully and my class was totally mesmerized. I was nonplussed at the time, really didn’t know what to think. Several months ago LYF was thoroughly dissected here on CHILDLIT and I started think harder about it and pretty much have to say I do find it creepy, but I find “Peter Pan” creepy too with all that weird mother stuff. (Oops, any great Barrie fans out there whom I have offended? I do admit to a nostalgic love of the old Mary Martin teleplay, but there you have the Indian problem.)Still I agree with Russ that as role models we have to be very careful in how we give our opinions about such beloved books. If a student presses me for an opinion I will say that it isn’t my favorite and leave it at that. It is like “The Bridges of Madison County.” I stay pretty quiet on that one too with people who would be terribly hurt if I was too honest. I want students/colleagues/friends/relatives to continue to listen to me and feel that I will listen to them. Giving a forceful negative opinion on books like these has the potential of breaking down hard won relationships of respect.
  • Masha K. Rudman: Dear Mike and all,I agree with the three you’ve chosen (especially LYF and The Giving Tree). I don’t think that the Rainbow Fish has the quality of writing of the other two to capture readers and entrap them in the (I hope) unintentional messages. But my all time favorite book to hate and worry about in terms of its negative impact is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (and, in fact, most of Roald Dahl’s books). When the quality of writing is high, and the fantasy is enticing, then the message gets deep into the reader and it is difficult to sort it out, and even realize that it is being internalized.
  • Beverly Clark: Like Russ, Karla, and Mike, I too have trouble communicating my concerns to students about works that some of them love. I like the approach Mike describes. I’ve also tried getting students to compare two older books, one of which conveys a treacly view of childhood, the other of which does not. An advantage of this approach is that students are unlikely to have encountered the works before–and therefore unlikely to bring in strongly held pre-existing feelings about it. I’m afraid I can’t remember the secondary source that sparked the idea for comparing the two works, but the two are Joan Walsh Anglund’s A FRIEND IS SOMEONE WHO LIKES YOU (full of abstractions, treacly sentiment, cutesie-poo illustrations) and Ruth Krauss’s A HOLE IS TO DIG (illus. Sendak). I get students to discuss the two in small groups the first day of class–and maybe it helps that it’s the first day of class–our discussion orients students to some of my concerns (e.g., our cultural constructions of childhood) early.I’m tempted to think that sentimentalization of childhood may be a special temptation for those who are the age of traditional college students–it becomes a way of separating oneself from childhood perhaps. I know that when I was in college I was entranced by one such pseudo-children’s book (with a title something like I LOVE YOU BECAUSE YOU FEEL SO NICE)–and I admit as much to students that first day of class. I was rather shocked, too, when a professor I admired bemoaned the cult of THE LITTLE PRINCE; I’m not so shocked now.
  • Naomi J. Wood: Having participated in LYF discussions before, I thought I’d put my $.02 in here.My students frequently choose LYF to present to the class, and one of the most useful things one of them did was to do an audience survey of the book by reading it to different age groups, genders, etc. One of the things I found most interesting about this student’s findings (her surveyed group was her own family, from age 5 to age 85), was that young children found LYF humorous, her boyfriend found it stupid, and most of the adults in her family found it emotionally satisfying. Personally, the book gives me the creeps, but that may be because I find that kind of expression of love invasive–the kind of love that controls by insisting on its inviolability. The mother in the story seems so abject–groveling, crawling, invasive. . . . And I’m very curious about why it is that the son has to give this love to the next generation in the form of a daughter–it seems to make the whole question of love bizarrely heterosexist, as if same-sex parents can’t love their children that way.In another audience survey done by another student on *The Paperbag Princess*, she found that the 5-year-olds she read it to were outraged by the violation of the formula (when the princess doesn’t marry the prince) while fourth graders loved it, having been around long enough to get bored with the formula. Maybe Munsch can’t be assumed to say the same thing to everyone (even more than most authors).
  • Jane Yolen: Monica–in fact there is a lot of creepy mother stuff in Peter Pan, but that is the point. IF you read the original and then PETER PAN IN KENSINGTON GARDENS where Peter goes back home and the windows are closed to him and he looks in and there is his mother with a new little baby you will see Barrie playing out the whole mothering scene. I remember sobbing and sobbing at that as a child.The Peter Pan books are very autobiographical, I understand. But it has been years since I read them–and I haven’t read much on Barrie’s actual life. He was Very Victorian, however.
  • elizabeth ashley haigler: A opinion is what a an individual believes personally. If a student happens to like the book then that should be fine. Our own opinions are what make us individuals and inturn stronger people. If we all conform to what other people think then we might as well live the “sameness” as in The Giver. You deal with students who like the book by asking them why, maybe they can give you insight as to why it is a good book. Words in books are to be interperted into your own thoughts in your own head. Thats how we look at poetry; Whats the author trying to say?. Maybe I’m wrong in some peoples eyes BUT this is MY opinion!!!!!!!!!
  • Beth Rost: enjoyed the book. In talking about a dysfunctional family, does anyone know the real definition of what a dysfunctional family is? I think in some ways we dig to deep for negative connontations in books. Rather than just enjoy them as children do, we look for the “bad”. Robert Munsch is a wonderful children’s author. If he were to do the same types of stories over and over, we would be getting on him for that too.

    Unfortunately, through the media we have been taught if love goes too far as some of you think went on in I’ll Love you Forever, something is wrong! I believe it is about a mother who loves her child a lot. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • Kaia Wood: Elaine Ostray pointed out that children need to hear directly that they are loved because they lack confidence (I am paraphrasing). I think this is exactly part of the point made previously that the mother DOESN’t directly tell her child that she loves him. Yes, perhaps the children get the message anyway because they hear her singing, but theoretically the son in the book does not hear her singing. Also, what message is this sending in terms of love: conditional, or unconditional? If her love were truly unconditional she wouldn’t be so careless with her negative comments during the day. It seems to me she’s saying not only to her own son but to all children who hear the story that children are loveable only when they are quiet and at rest. I can see both sides presented here, but I think, like others, that this book isn’t of a high enough quality to gamble with the hidden messages it may give children. If adults like it, fine let them read it secretly every night and stay out of their childrens bedrooms!
  • Emily Carton

    I don’t have the same problems with LYF, but seeing the controversy has made me choose it for a class that I am teaching with seniors who will look out and review children’s books that depict aging. It will be interesting to get their perspective on it and I am sure will provoke some heated debate. I too, did not like the Bridges of Madison Country, don’t talk about it, but completely understand how, like Hollywood romance movies, which it will soon be, offers a great escape for people who feel like passion lies outside their life in some archtypal image. I see LYF as the same. Honestly, as a social worker, teacher, I don’t understand what harm it does. While it may not be great literature, I think the feelings of the mother, although highly exaggerated and not to be taken literally, are quite fair to what one feels, might wish (in a symbolic sense) but hopefully would never do. The children who I have known who have read, never once thought that the story was a fact, but just as much a fantasy as other books they have read. I’ll let you know next fall – if you all are not too sick of hearing about it – how the seniors, who are a retired group of professionals from all cornors viewed the book. Jane Yolen – thanks for clearing up the “love thing,” and who sent it. It was offended by the cyncism of it. Was anyone else? Or has this whole topic of LYF just touched a nerve – either positive or negative in all of us. I must say, there is something to be said for the book – that much is obvious. Cheers to everyone who has taken the debate and run with it.

  • Emily Carton: Maybe it is important to look out what the children who find the books satisfying are receiving from the book. And then those of who are writers, can perhaps do it better. I think the adults are over anaylzing – which we often do – into these books and projecting our own images of what we like or don’t like or what we want or don’t want from our own mother’s or our parenting. The children who this book seems to be aimed for, perhaps get the kind of comfort they need to have the repetition and the mother’s love over and over again. I have seen so many children hold onto that book like they do to teddy bears. Eventually, they give them up too.4 Apr 1995, Cynthia Stilleywhat is happening here is that the Munsch book is illustrating an emotion (love, particularly a Mother’s love) in such an abbreviated manner that the aspect of character development is totally ignored. Therefore, we see a raw, selfless, groveling and yes, impaired (read dysfunctional) individual. She seems to have no other life. She is out of context. And that is why the story gives some of us the creeps.
  • Jo-Ann Woolverton: I was very surprised when I joined this list to find a heated discussion of one of the books written by a favorite author. As a Canadian I guess I am very protective of our writers. Robert Munsch’s books range from the down right weird (Pigs) to ground breaking (Paper Bag Princess – one of the first in the current explosion of fractured fairy tales). Here in Canada his regulat publisher did not want to publish LYF because it did not have the humor that is always so prominent in his earlier works. Another publisher picked it up and I think we are the luckier for it.Please don’t take this as a blanket approval of all of his books. There are some which I have trouble with. They include “Good families don’t” and his newest, here in Canada, “Where is Gah-Ning?”
  • Beth Rost: I think we are digging a little deep into the story I’ll Love you Forever. It’s a simple story about a mother who adores and loves her son a lot. I think since our society has changed so much so have our attitudes so we expect and look for the worst when a mother does so much for her family. Before we can call it a dysfunctional family, I believe we must define dysfunctional. Just my opinion!
  • Jane Yolen: I think the problem with LOVE YOU FOREVER is that we don’t dig into it enough! In fact most of us (and I include myself in this) tend to read superficially and to not understand hidden meanings at all. Or if we do, we make easy equations–ie a book with a dragon is satanic, a book with an ecological message is New Age, etc.And I also think it is possible for well-meaning people to disagree on a book without being taken to task for dissecting it.
  • June Cummins Lewis: I agree that defining one’s terms is always helpful, but I must voice my concern about the suggestion to close off attempts at digging. First of all, I think it’s almost impossible ever to dig too deep when it comes to figuring out underlying messages of stories, particularly for children. It’s true that deep digging can get carried away, but some digging is almost always in order. Literature cannot exist in a vacuum; it always exists in a cultural context, and this is especially true when we read to children. But this is not my main point. My second point is that this book *especially* cries out to be discussed. The pictures are so strange, and the concepts so important that it behooves all readers to try to construct some meaning that may not be obviously presented in the text. Like others, I felt revulsion upon first reading this book, but I know many people who love it. When I have a reaction like that, I feel compelled to figure out why. And if my reaction were merely that I liked it, I still would want to know what was satisfying about the story. (Since I found the story so unsatisfying, my urge to pick it apart is even greater, I admit!) Anyway, the point of this diatribe is to offer the opinion that almost all books warrant some deep thinking, and this book, particularly, needs to be discussed and thought about.
  • Kathleen Jo Powell Hannah: Hear, hear! Aren’t we *here* to discuss books? Respecting others’ opinions is great, but refusing to analyze things in depth, because “it’s just everyone’s opinion,” is, well, for tabloid TV.
  • Dian Maureen Borek: Hi:I am now enjoying reading all the comments about love you forever. Since we got rid of the !!!!! and generalizations and accusations the discussion has become much more thought provoking. I have suggested putting it on the course list for a children’s course this summer since it seems to ignite so much controversy. As children’s librarians it helps to know and learn to be very cautious about reader’s advisory. I am always afraid of reccommending reading material for children, young mothers etc that could potentially be offensive.
  • Alice Naylor: I feel there is a difference between THE GIVING TREE, RAINBOW FISH, AND ILYF. Rainfish is a translation and the language is pretty ordinary, the plot pretty flat (as well as objectionable). LYF is not successful as a fantasy because the reader laughs — it is a strange combination of sentiment and ridiculousness. However, I think the QUALITY of THE GIVING TREE is high. I wanted to throw up when I first read it, but proably still do. But the quality of the book is unquestionable. Another one like that is THE FRIENDS OF EMILY CULPEPPER. I think it is out of print, but I use it in workshops becuse it gets everyone riled up. Its a Philomel book — the author escapes me at the moment — its Australian.
  • Barbara McGinn: I don’t know about anyone else but I am getting sick of the Love You Forever discussion. However, I’ve held back throughout this discussion and just can’t resist bringing up again something that I think has only been mentioned once. Aside from the writing, the theme, the interpretation etc., the illustrations alone are worth rejecting the book. It would take a pretty special children’s picture book to get beyond the garish illustrations (garish at best) and certainly Love You Forever doesn’t fit that category.
  • Perry Nodelman: O.K., so let’s see if I’ve got this straight:1. The reason those of us who are given the creeps by Love You Forever are being given those creeps by it is that we are reading it too literally. It’s a metaphor. It’s not really about a devouring mother who sneaks into her teenage son’s bedroom at night to adore him in secret. The devouring mother, the bedroom, and the son all stand for something else–something far more mystical and profound and innocuous. We creeped-out reader should stop paying so much attention and noticing so much; if we would learn how to read less carefully, we would enjoy the book more. We should lighten up. We should stop thinking. Thinking is bad for us.2. Or, alternately: the reason those of us who are given the creeps by Love You Forever are being given those creeps by it is that we are over-analyzing it. We are not reading it literally enough. It’s just a story, for gosh sake. We creeped-out readers should lighten up. We should stop thinking. Thinking is bad for us.So, which is it? Too literal, or too un-literal? I’m confused.

    But despite their contradictory nature, these positions have much in common, Both plead for less awareness and less thoughtfulness. Both are profoundly anti-intellectual, and profoundly anti-educational. In the context of this list, serving people with a professional interest in putting children into contact with literature, I find them both profoundly disturbing.

    Or is it just that I am thinking too much about them?


    This following part was saved from a previous thread re: Love You Forever.

    • Sharyn Novemberon 1/12, Bonita Kale wrote that “LOVE YOU FOREVER” came close to making her physically ill. Rest assured, you are not alone! Many people — including me — have had the same reaction.Here’s my take — there is something extremely creepy about this mother/son relationship. I can understand her singing to her young son, but once he gets older, it borders on the truly bizarre. Sneaking into his room? Driving to his house? It gave me the creeps, as did the picture in which the son holds the shrunken mother. One wonders what his wife thinks of all this (unless she does it with her father).In a joking moment I called the book “every Jewish son’s nightmare.” (As a Jew, I felt I could get away with this.) I don’t think of it as reassuring at all. There’s something unsettling about it — to say the least!
    • Jim MaroonWelll… I’m going to go against the grain here just a bit. When I first heard this story, it was told by a very gifted resource teacher who had decent presentation ability. Her love for it really came through. After her passionate presentation, I literally had goosebumps.Much later, I finally found a copy for myself. At first each time I read it, my mind read ith through her voice, but I was instantly disappointed with the pictures. I still liked it a great deal. I have grown to dislike it a bit, and I’m not sure why. Was it the pictures? Is it peer pressure? Or was it this teachers love for it that really showed through?My storytelling teacher, Bob Jenkins, once told me, “A good story can get through a bad telling better than a bad story can get through a good telling”. Maybe sometimes even a bad story can shine in the hands of a gifted teller? Or maybe there is something to this story we may be missing?
    • Bonita Kale”Enough already about Love You Forever. I heard Robert Munsch speak several years ago about his books, Love You Forever being one of them. He wrote the book as a children’s story. He added that the children to whom he had shared the book found it very funny.”Wow! A whole new take! Does that mean all that stuff about Mom driving across town and cuddling her “baby” was supposed to be -funny-? And it should have had James Marshall kind of illos, as if it were a book in the Stupids series,–“The Stupids Love Their Children”, perhaps?
    • Shahnaz C SaadHello! I have been reading the _Love You Forever_ commentary bemusedly, and I have decided to put in my 2 cents worth…The fact, is I did find the book funny as well as warm and rather sweet. This little old lady rocking her 40-year-old son *is* funny, especially to small children, who like the absurdity of it. And on a different level, I think it’s reassuring to many people of all ages that parental love doesn’t end when one hits a certain age or size.
    • Thomas B SmithTrue confessions: I kinda like _Love You Forever_; in fact, I’ve actually purchased it as a gift for new parents (a practice I stopped when some of them reacted as negatively as the members of this list! Oh, well…)In the middle of all this list discussion, I attended a child development seminar at which the speaker actually read LYF to about 200 early childhood professionals, had them chanting “back and forth” and singing the little song and everything. In the light of all your comments, I found the whole spectacle rather pathetic, somehow…but y’know, I still DO like the book!I’m mostly surprised by the fact that so many people insist on taking the thing so LITERALLY — it’s obvious to me that the mom driving through the night with the ladder on her car is meant to SYMBOLIZE her continuing feelings of connectedness to her child. Karen Traynor is on the right track when she says that she “interpreted that part of the story as a way of showing that love continues in a family no matter how old we get. . .”

      This interpretation raises larger questions about the book’s appropriateness for literal-minded young children — but it’s SO silly, I think they mostly get the message.

    • Karen also stated that: “I get tears in my eyes every time I read it.” which happens to me, too. Even during that silly seminar! Maybe (probably) the book is mawkish and blatantly manipulative, but for some of us at least, this strange little volume really offers a glimpse of the turning wheel of life.

 

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Magical Realism: A definition?

Someone asked for definitions for Magical Realism on Child_lit listserv — largely due to the fact that there is not truly academically agreed upon hard definitions for this “genre” (or sub-genre, or simply, a style.)  I offered the following personal observations:

Post 1:
Magical Realism has to take place largely IN a REAL setting – normal people, regular time/space, as you would find in books like Anne of Green Gable, or The Outsiders, or Frindle.
But — this Real World wears a thin gossamer of something magical — it might cover the entire realm and manifest here and there, but very very faintly and is almost never full-on addressed; it might only inhabit a few characters’ lives/minds, and it is usually unspoken, too — merely experienced: in an unsurprising manner, unspoken, but understood by all the characters.  A typical instance will be for a character to be visited by a dead relative who gives advice or sheds light on current event in a semi-dream state, with no fanfare, no fear, and not even confusion.
To me, It differs from high fantasy where there is a whole made-up world for the magic to happen.  It also differs from other kinds of fantasy but then largely in TONE and in the characters’ reaction to the existence of Magic in the Real World.  City of Bones, taking place in current day world is NOT magical realism because it is still a re-built world where Shadowhunters and other magical creatures co-inhabit with humans and the world’s fate hinges on the actions of those magical creatures.  This is a straightforward fantasy.
A Monster Calls, on the other hand, feels to me more like Magical Realism because the “magic stuff” overlays gently on top of a very real world.  (And that’s even debatable.)  Weetzie Bat and other books by Block have been called magical realism — I’m on the fence about this, too.
And when someone mentioned that Holes is cited as a work of “magical realism,” I responded:
Post 2
[Holesfeels more like a folk tale or a tall tale, which is different from Magical Realism in my bones.  The tone is too bright, too straightforward, and the magic and legend too “told” and, if this makes sense, too directly involved in moving the plot along.  It serves as a plot device and not as a sheen…

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First Person Present Tense

For the past couple of years, as I read Children’s and YA novels, I have noticed an increase in First Person Present Tense narrative style.  I know there are at least two factors here — First Person narrative voice and Present Tense narrative … um… tense.. but since there are so many of the combined two that I’ve read recently, I think of them as one “phenomenon.”

I asked on child_lit:

Has anyone done any research or written articles about this trend?  Is it a trend or just a fluke?  What are some of the reasons that this has become more prevalent?  I am also curious about what people feel as readers of these books and how young readers’ relationships with books might change (or might not) due to this very young-character-centered and very living in the present (no past, no future) mode.

I was pointed to two recent articles that addressed this newish trend: Present Tensions, or It’s All Happening Now by Deirdre Baker for December 2011 Hornbook’s Opinion page and Philip Pullman calls time on the present tense by Philip Pullman for the September 18, 2010 Guardian.uk.

After reading these articles and also some wise observations and opinions from fellow child_lit scholars, I felt that I could grasp this phenomenon a little better and also have some half-formed opinions regarding the use of this particular POV + Tense.

I wrote yesterday on Child_lit:

I am not sure that I totally agree with Pullman’s almost categorical rejection of the actual POV/Tense itself — I think of it as another tool/device that is in the toolbox of any writer and all I am asking is for the authors to consider consciously and carefully of which voice and which tense to use that will help them deliver best the tale they are telling or the events they are reporting.

I don’t think there is any intrinsic worthiness or lack of such of any tense – or POV.  I do reject the blindness that seems to happen in publishing world whenever a new “trend” starts or gets stronger: What I don’t like is sensing a potentially great story or character being handled carelessly and “wrongfully” by writers or editors just because some popular stories are told this way and thus their new story must also be told in this fashion.  I also think authors need to understand their own writing styles and choose the one that fits themselves best, too.  

For example, if the author’s biggest pleasure in writing is to craft beautifully metaphorical sentences that reveal some inner and deeper meanings of everyday life, it’s probably not gonna be very convincing if these sentences are coming from a first person narrator who is a 10-year-old city girl with no special background or personality traits to justify such expert use of literary language.  If the tale would have been richer and more flavorful by allowing the readers to see the main character from more than one angle or to offer events that the main character could not have witnessed, then, a first person narrative voice would have “thinned” the story and reduced its impact.  On the other hand, if the whole point of the tale is to show the consequences of lack of maturity or understanding of the big picture, then a constant close-ups that only allows the readers to see the story from a narrow mindset might enhance the final reveal.

No matter what the writers decided to tell their stories, I simply wish that young readers, with the guidance of great teachers and librarians, have the opportunities and skills to enjoy the “double pleasure” of not only “getting the stories” but also of “figuring out the author’s craft.” I find myself often in the position of begging young readers (or sometimes extremely practiced lifelong readers) to be hyper aware of the narrative devices and hone their literary eyesights and hearings acutely in order to heighten their own reading experiences.

I am still a firm believer that literary criticism can only enhance the richness of a reading exercise.  (Yup, I used this word!) And to unpack and understand the strengths and limitations of First Person Present Tense has given me a lot of pleasure already!  I’m sure more thoughts on this will surface as I read more 2012 Children’s books!

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Aesthetic Analysis of Children’s Books

Child_lit discussion archive: all rights reserved for individual contributors.


10 Jun 1998
Marc Aronson

It is easy enough to see how to begin discussing children’s books in a primarily aesthetic fashion, that is by putting off to one side the entire issue of their utility — for good or harm. Once you judge a book — as we just saw in the post on Smokey Night — by how it will or will not work in a classroom, by how it may or may not inculcate values we admire or disdain, by what hidden, latent, or manifest ideological aims (also known as “messages”) in the text or art — you are judging it by its utility. The book itself as an artistic object is secondary to the book as a means of transmitting ideas and images.

That is precisely what I object to. A story follows. Yesterday after work I went to NYU library to do some research. I ran into a old friend from high school — a very well known militant black feminist. We used to have great arguments on just these topics in the hallways at school. Like me, she returned in middle age to get a graduate degree. Her doctorate is in film studies and she is studying Griffiths, in particular Birth of a Nation.

There is no film more replete with terrible imagery and story lines than that. And yet she, from a militant black feminist point of view feels we have misunderstood him and the film. Because we are so quick to be shocked, outraged, and angry at it — for all the obvious reasons — we never pause to understand it, to view in the context of all of his films. Remember his next was called Intolerance.

So I say instead of contenting ourselves with the “gotcha” school of criticism — in which we prove our sensitivity by winkling out “errors” and “harms” — lets look at what GraceAnne raised, why are there so many OK, mediocre books — all of which work very hard to avoid error and transmit “good” values.

Or here’s another aesthetic issue — many authors are now writing in multiple voices. Roger Sutton says this is hard for teenage readers, who have trouble with flashbacks. I’ve also heard this from some teenagers. And yet those same readers are totally comfortable with the rapid point of view shifts of MTV.

A series of aesthetic questions would include why writers are chosing this form, whether in individual cases we feel that form serves or handicaps a given work of art, and then how this overall develop tracks other kinds of multiple narrative all around us.

A parallel set of issues is around the use of photo collage, as in Vladimir Radunsky and Lisa DiSemmini (sp?) How are their achieving their effects, what effects are they achieving?

These are all just rapid off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts. But see the difference, once you move away from making use the measure of value, you have every aspect of pleasure, intelligence, wit, creativity, taste, and experiment to savor.

I’m sure all of you have had recent reading experiences that brought you pleasure. How did the author/artist achieve that? What choice of words with which set of images created an experience of pleasure? Isn’t that worth understanding?

The most recent one I had was a sentence Bruce Brooks wrote for a sample he created just for a class I was teaching: “His voice always made me think of water freezing — he spoke slowly, and coldly, and with the certainty that what he took a long time to say would eventually solidify.”

Magnificent.


10 Jun 1998
Constance Vidor

Marc’s refreshing and spirited comments on the value of appreciating literature from an aesthetic point of view reminded me of Michael Joseph’s comment of a few months ago about literature being a separate imaginary space–I love that idea and I feel sure that the feeling of being inside a different reality, one that has an internal strength independent of the outside world, is what makes us fall in love with reading.

I think there _is_ an over-emphasis on ideology in the criticism of children’s literature. Some writers do manage to consider both ideology and aesthetics in an integrated way — Jerry Griswold’s _Audacious Kids_ combines sociological, historical, psychological, and aesethitci perspectives quite brilliantly! So, in a different way, does Hugh Carpenter in _Secret Gardens_.

The book review journals need to do a better job in this regard. I’m appalled, absolutely appalled at the lack of aesthetic standards evinced in the average book review of –pick your review journal and fill in the title here. This is especially true for picture books! How often have you ordered a picture book that was well-reviewed, only to find, on receipt of the item, that it is a “dumb blonde” of a book–beautiful to look at, but without one bit of linguisitic wit or imagination?

Critics need to perhaps cheer a little louder for linguisitc beauty when it occurs–as in J. Patrick Lewis’ _The Frog Princess_, in which trees are “aching with ice” or as in Sally Mavor’s _The Way Home_, in which each perfectly chiselled phrase expresses the story’s emotions in a pure, intense, simple, effortless way that is absolutely astonishing for its musical grace and understated linguistic elegance.

Perhaps publishers and editors might have some influence here, as well.


10 Jun 1998
June Cummins

“Critics need to perhaps cheer a little louder for linguisitc beauty when it occurs–as in J. Patrick Lewis’ _The Frog Princess_, in which trees are “aching with ice” or as in Sally Mavor’s _The Way Home_, in which each perfectly chiselled phrase expresses the story’s emotions in a pure, intense, simple, effortless way that is absolutely astonishing for its musical grace and understated linguistic elegance.”

These suggestions really made me think. Hearing these discussions, I’ve realized that it’s not in my criticism or in my childlit posts that I give equal weight to aesthetic issues and ideology. But I naturally do this in the classroom. When I teach, I am always concerned with both *how* an author says something (or *how* an illustrator shows something) and with *what* is being said (or shown). I can’t imagine discussing Gary Soto’s work, for instance, without showing my students both the ideological issues he brings out (which are almost impossible to ignore) and the interesting, innovative ways in which he uses language and imagery (he was a poet before he was a children’s author, and this gives me a great opportunity to discuss how a poet might treat language differently than a non-poet). I can’t imagine *teaching* literature without a conscious awareness of authors’ and illustrators’ artistry.

So why doesn’t the aesthetic aspect surface in critical articles? This is true, of course, not only children’s literature, but almost all academic criticism. Sometimes I read older scholarly articles, and I’m almost *embarrassed* when the critic says something about how beautiful or moving certain writing is. Why is this? Is it because aesthetic appreciation is subjective?

I do think that when we venture into aesthetic criticism we need to keep im mind that it’s not enough to say “it was beautiful.” We should be both specific and detailed in our explanations of *why* something is beautiful, well-wrought, etc. (like Constance was above). I still believe that we need to consider both aesthetics and ideology as we think about literature. But we do often give aesthetics short shrift in scholarship.


11 Jun 1998
Marc Aronson

It has been interesting to read as people take out their secret treasures of aesthetic responses to book — like jewels hidden away from public sight. Of course a discussion of aesthetics is not a collection of soft affirmations — I loved it, it moved me — actually it should be quite as challenging and tough as any political wrangle. But that gets to something June said — which also relates to the CS Lewis debate of a while ago. The idea that one’s aesthetic response is subjective is but one school of response. Until quite recently in historical time — and I think we actually believe this but don’t defend it — critics believed in taste. Response to art was not subjective, it was objective — you judged an art by universal standards of art. Don’t we really still assume this — that is why we feel our responses matter, we think our own senses somehow match what is true about this art work. Not just true for us, but true.

For the same reason, we get alarmed about ideological issues in the art. But it is easier to make that case, because we feel less certain about what is or is not an artistic truth. This relates to the Lewis b/c — as someone said at the time — the idea that the test of a kids’ book as its enduring value rested on a belief in universal values.

So in encouraging us to look at art, I’m also wondering how we judge art. The more we understand about what gives us pleasure, or disturbs (which can be a good thing) in an artwork, the more capable we are of reacting to the next book, the next painting, etc.


11 Jun 1998
Drew Clausen

“Response to art was not subjective, it was objective — you judged an art by universal standards of art. Don’t we really still assume this — that is why we feel our responses matter, we think our own senses somehow match what is true about this art work. Not just true for us, but true.”

Unfortunately, the political climate has been one that told us that even a picture of Christ in a jar of urine is art, and the Virgin Mary enshrouded in a condom is art. You protest such things–even on asthetic grounds–and you are suddenly part of the vast right-wing conspiracy and are naturally out to squelch free speech and labelled a censor. So much for those universal standards.

“So in encouraging us to look at art, I’m also wondering how we judge art. The more we understand about what gives us pleasure, or disturbs (which can be a good thing) in an artwork, the more capable we are of reacting to the next book, the next painting, etc.”

Yep. Unfortunately some reactions are not acceptable. The trouble is that we aren’t really allowed to judge art anymore. We’re supposed to simply accept it at face value and make no comments (although worshipful gushing is still allowed). It’s no wonder that so many of us tread lightly on the question of aesthetics rather than be called a Philistine for daring to pronounce a work of art “bad.”

We might be able to get away with comments such as “that’s not to my liking,” but we dare not invoke any sort of universal standards by which art is measured. Absolute truths, we’ve decided, aren’t worth the trouble; we sent them packing years ago.

Guess someone hit one of my hot-buttons!


11 Jun 1998
Violet Joyce Harris

A few thoughts:

Members of the group have and continue to discuss the aesthetic merit of works. The primacy of aesthetics or the intrusion of ideology/politics or whatever term we select is a debate that will never end.

I am quite interested when reviewers, critics, and so forth have an opportunity to offer an analysis that can be described as “raceless” but choose to insert race. For example, it is not uncommon to read a review in journals which will state something to the effect: A five-year-old African American boy. However, it is not as common to read a review in which the “White” characters are identified as such. What sorts of responses would result if that were the case? Sometimes the racial or ethnic identity is important; at other times it is irrelevant. Are we to have an immediate set of characteristics when we read the phrase militant Black feminist? Black feminists range from Michelle Wallace to Audre Lorde to Rosa Parks. Just as no one image comes to mind, nor would I expect Black feminists or any Black person to respond to Birth of a Nation, a work of art, poem, a dish of food, or whatever in a monolithic fashion.

A few years ago, there was an adult novel set in Vermont( I think) about the Beans. I did not “position” myself as a Black person when I read the excerpt. What came to mind was, I like this novel, maybe I’ll buy it because the language appealed to me as well as the characters. As the reading continued, the author, intentionally or unintentionally “positioned” me as a Black when she wrote that the characters decided to engage in sexual intercourse as Blacks would; I cleaned up the language because she used the “F” and “N” words. Did I respond aesthetically or politically to the episode? Maybe both. I didn’t buy the book despite the literary quality. This happens in children’s books as well. For instance, I enjoyed the way Konigsburg structured the narrative in The View From Saturday. Reading along, I was struck by the description of “brown” skin as abnormal. AS a reader, my immediate response was brown skin is normal to me and how will this affect others with brown skins, especially children who read the novel? Would I censor or not share the novel? Absolutely not but I would engage children in a discussion of this imagery AFTER we discussed their personal responses to the text and we examined the work as a literary product. I find that in discussions with adults, these three levels of responses are often intertwined.

I want to raise a question I previously posed. Does anyone have examples of children’s literature written by people of color that are in the vein of Sambo, Tikki, Five Chinese Brothers, etc. and which are similarly hallmarks of culture, popular and otherwise?


11 Jun 1998
Roger Sutton

As someone who finds much contemporary visual art silly, I was prepared to laugh Serrano’s “Piss Christ” into the same loony bin to which I had already consigned Jesse Helms. But when I saw it, I was stunned with its beauty and, I thought, reverence. I don’t think this is “worshipful gushing.” I would hesitate as well to say that Serrano’s photograph is by any objective standard a masterpiece–not because I don’t think it’s great, but because it’s a picture that changes the rules, changes the standards. What would we measure it against?

Okay Marc, you can start picking on me now.


11 Jun 1998
Ed Sullivan

Marc Aronson brought up a really interesting point when he talked about critics evaluating art by an established set of standards. It reminds me of the scathingly negative reactions French critics had of the first Impressionist works. Those artists were breaking conventional standards standards of taste and creating a set of new ones.

Evaluating books is also not entirely subjective. There are certain literary standards that most people would probably agree a book would have to meet in order to be judged one “of quality.”

And, talk about subjectivity . . . My wife is always fun to go with to museums. She has a very simplistic way of evaluating art: “I wouldn’t hang it over my sofa.” Hardly an in depth appraisal, but hey, she knows what she likes. I’m not sure how she judges sculptures or other works of art that cannot be hung. Maybe “I wouldn’t have that on my coffee table.” I’ll have to ask her about that.


11 Jun 1998
Janet Zarem

I forgot to post this to child_lit, and sent it back only to Violet Joyce Harris. JZ

violet joyce harris wrote: “(long quote snipped — fcl.) I am so glad Violet brought this up. As a reader and writer of reviews this practice has been on my mind for some time. I have had teachers tell me they were so glad to know that a particular ethnic or cultural group or character appeared in a book because they were trying to make their bookshelves and their class reading more representative of the world at large. But then I am also very aware that mentionning characters are Black or African American in one book, and not mentionning that they are White or Euro American in another, is a clear reflection of American political-cultural expectations (pardon this excessively awkward phrase) “default” setting to White (and probably Christian)–which implies, whether it is meant to or not, that “brown,” for exmaple, is abnormal or requires some special demarcating notice.

I used to think this had to do with literal realities, ie., that in the United States most people were, in fact, white (of European descent) and Protestant or Catholic. Yet, it is clear from other political realities and countries, that the “default” setting is more a reflection of the group who traditionally manage the political power and funding, than a matter of demographics. The majority of people in the world are female–yet one would never guess this from reading or viewing the news. Sometimes I despair that humanity can not seem to honor our differences without emphasizing them in ways that are hurtful.

I also wonder if, say , African American or Latino or Asian writers are free to write books featuring White characters. This seems quite rare to me. Lee and Low Books publishes books written and illustrated by people of all ethnicities about people of all ethnicities, but they are, I believe, the exception. I would be happy to have my ignorance corrected in this matter. It is more common in illustrators. But I believe there are very few books like “One April Morning,” by Nancy Lamb (a picture book about the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing), illustrated by Floyd Cooper, which represents all Americans with a touching and powerful illustration of two African Americans on the cover.

“I want to raise a question I previously posed. Does anyone have examples of children’s literature written by people of color that are in the vein of Sambo, Tikki, Five Chinese Brothers, etc. and which are similarly hallmarks of culture, popular and otherwise?” Yes, please, if anyone knows.


11 Jun 1998
Dick Macgillivray

I think Ms. S. has a good method for judging art. Mine is just a variation on that: would I like to live with that (whatever it is) forever? If not, better to see it in a museum or gallery. If so, try by whatever legal means to make it mine. Of course it’s all subjective, but then aren’t most things? Even the ‘community of readers’ concept merely aggragates the subjective responses.


11 Jun 1998
Resa Matlock

The issue of squeamishness, which from comments made here on the list I’ve suddenly realized is an important part of what one perceives as beautiful, profound, or moving, is, to state the obvious, a delicate one. On the one hand you’ve got your not-so-maidenly aunt — a bit of a hypochondriac, if truth be told — who refuses to ride in the elevator with a rubber snake unless someone agrees to stick the snake in her pocket. On the other hand you’ve got your daughter, proud owner of said snake, who leaps screaming from the tub when her 13-month-old cousin sees fit to do with her bowels what every parent could tell you that his child too has seen fit to do, at least once during infancy, while bathing in a tub of warm water.

So, ok, natural functions of the body, and books about them for children, are things we come to terms with once we get on intimate terms with our children. We do this in the name of art, because all things related to our offspring are seen through a glass lightly, as though coated in a fine film of pink, no matter how odd they might appear to outsiders. Actions which would’ve set our hair and brains on fire before the birth of our young now barely manage to curl our admittedly limper tresses. But we also, I think, would prefer that our children not allow themselves to become unduly upset by situations where grace and dignity and a minimum of embarrassment would stand them in better stead. Knowing as we do, what with extended life expectancies and an increased probability that dementia will overtake us before the undertaker does, that the chances are very good that at some point the fruits of our loins are either going to wind up strapped to a table or having to watch us get strapped to a table while someone pokes and prods us with what we can only hope will be perceived as blunt instruments, it seems kinder to prepare ourselves and them to work on their sense of detachment when it comes to most, if not all, things icky. (Just got back from a week with my grandfather, who’s still in the ICU but now off the ventilator, just in case anyone’s wondering why the sudden preoccupation with things medical.)

And lest we forget the rubber snake: teaching children to not allow themselves to wander too freely in and around the zone of hysteria is something we would probably all agree is a worthwhile undertaking.

But what then if we add religion to the equation? Throw an icon in with the snake and the processes of elimination? Keeping these areas of life separate — especially those involving snakes — out of respect for others’ beliefs and a desire to stave off an excess of coarseness — this also would seem to be a worthwhile approach to life and art. At least, that is, until you read about sects whose members work themselves up into high-pitched frenzies, or who speak in tongues, or practice foaming in shades of blue and green. And oh dear, yet more snakes, only this time they’re alive and poisonous, with only a longed-for freedom from sin standing betwixt the practitioners and the serpents’ fangs, the lightest prick of which will leave the former either dead or seriously deteriorated around and about their withers.

So what to do, even if you’re not a dues-paying member of Postmodern Ironic Detachment Anonymous, but laugh? Not a finger-pointing, geez you’re ridiculous, kind of a laugh, but more an aching, amused kind of a laugh, as in, What will the human species come up with next? And for those who would disagree with that reaction, I give you permission to see it another way, as long as that other way does not involve offering millions of dollars to your fellow countrymen if they should succeed in killing the person who has offended you and your cherished belief systems, nor involve arriving at the conclusion that placing a bomb in the foyer of the local clinic qualifies as a Christian approach to problem-solving.

Which leaves us, as we struggle to evaluate Art, with one foot stuck to the Excess Baggage carousel, poised somewhere between squirming over the need of artists to wrap our precious icons in barbed wire, toilet paper or viscera, and recognizing that the icons of others are not half as precious to us, and therefore fairer game to other Artists; and that yes, relativism does have its place at the dinner table, even when it steadfastly refuses to wear a bib, take off its hat or quit slurping as it drinks its soup.

And for those who would insist that it can’t all be shades of gray, that there must be absolutes, I can only nod in agreement. And offer this. To tie a man to the back of a truck, no matter what the color of his skin or the panels of the truck, and drag him down a country lane, scattering body parts along the way until he is dead; this, we can all say without any doubt whatsoever, is _not_ Art, not even of the performance variety. Anything less despicable, though, I’m afraid, is open to other interpretations, one of which may be that it’s better than a rubber snake dangling from a pocket, and another of which may be that it’s worse than a tubful of poop.


11 Jun 1998
Kathy Templeman

I don’t often get a chance to read the larger publication reviews, but I’ve noticed recently that reviewers noting race note all races, i.e. African-American child, Caucasian child. This is probably within BayViews, which is a review source put out by the Assoc, of Children’s Librarians of Northern California. Probably not all reviews/reviewers in this source, but it is happening more often. Is this occuring elsewhere?

As for you other question, I’m wondering, do you mean re-tellings of questionable material such as _Sam and the Tigers: A New Telling of Little Black Sambo_ by Julius Lester, or newly edited materials, such as the new edition of Lofting’s _Doctor Dolittle_ by the McKissacks, or…?


11 Jun 1998
Sara Jane Boyers

I shouldn’t be jumping into this discussion since I am deadlining on revisions for a new book, but….. I’ve been quickly scanning the discussions and can’t seem to hold myself back:

Drew said: “Yep. Unfortunately some reactions are not acceptable. The trouble is that we aren’t really allowed to judge art anymore. We’re supposed to simply accept it at face value and make no comments (although worshipful gushing is still allowed). It’s no wonder that so many of us tread lightly on the question of aesthetics rather than be called a Philistine for daring to pronounce a work of art “bad.”

I’ve been a major participant in the art world in this country as a collector, art history major and, with my first two children’s books on contemporary art and poetry, someone who speaks a lot to schoolchildren on art and poetry, especially 20th Century art. There are standards by which we judge art. There are emotions with respect to how we individually confront it. Both are valid – whether for paintings hanging on museum walls or in the picture books we present to our children.

I created my books as a Trojan horse. I felt if children and their parents enjoyed my books, they familiarized themselves with artist and poet stylistically and (partially through the bibiligraphy and list of museums I insisted appear in each book), they might further venure into fine arts.

I also created my books because of Serrano, because of Mapplethorpe, because of Jesse Helms. Art to me represents an opportunity to stand in front of a work (or to read it, listen to it) and CONVERSE with it, discuss it with others, look at the standards, look at one’s own feelings. Art in a children’s book – literary or visual – should offer the same opportunities. It’s an abstraction – portraying the artist’s thought and experience, portraying the history of the time, portraying the text of another’s thoughts and experience.

Yes, we can make our judgements. Yes, critics analyze it in terms (as in PB’s) of the marriage of two voices (I call it the “conversation”). Yes it is subject still to formal criticism. Yes there are and should be limits. And yes, we have to decide if we want it on our walls. Primarily it is subject to whether it makes us think, makes us dream, makes us feel. Sometimes the feeling is negative. Sometimes positive. But we are analyzing for emotion AND for quality. As Marc Aronson says, we hone our response the more of it we see. By viewing. By reading. By looking into ourselves or observing another’s (especially children’s) reaction, we start to learn what is good. Quality is represented by a feeling of warmth, of satisfaction as well as often, a disturbance, a question. “Piss Christ”, as Roger Sutton has said, was surprising in its elegance. Rather than the one-liner repeated through others, he viewed it and questioned. It worked! Isn’t that what we want? To reaffirm the curiosity? To have the right to affirm or dissafirm? Not to follow.

A quick anecdote: When I speak to young teenagers about my books, I often get the question: “Well why would a painting that is an all white or all black square be considered art?” I love it! First, I realize that these young kids already know about Ad Reinhardt or Malevich, whether or not they know them by name. Then, I am just amazed at the depth of the question… it leads to more. Anything that leads to more, that establishes an avenue of curiosity is ok for me. And, if they hate it – then they’ve learned something about themselves (so watch all you illustrators out there who create black squares!). On the other hand, rejoice, all you writers, illustrators, librarians and teachers who can’t wait for the question that leads the student into another arena of investigation. As an author, that’s what I want.

And … to bring this back to the beginning: I’ve been discussion with a major artist about using his work in connection with the Witches lament from Macbeth which I chose as a possible pairing as I saw the “conversation” between the lament and his work. The scene, “Double, Double, Toil and Trouble” contains the lines, “Liver of blaspheming Jew, …… Nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips”. These are not exactly PC today. But, don’t they raise a discussion? Don’t they raise history (what DID Shakespeare and his compatriots feel about others in their time)? What are we trying to do with children’s literature? Tikki Tikki Tembo and others of this genre raise issues. If we don’t raise issues, what are we giving our children?


12 Jun 1998
GraceAnne A. DeCandido

Marc wrote:
“Until quite recently in historical time — and I think we actually believe this but don’t defend it — critics believed in taste. Response to art was not subjective, it was objective — you judged an art by universal standards of art. Don’t we really still assume this — that is why we feel our responses matter, we think our own senses somehow match what is true about this art work. Not just true for us, but true.”

Ah yes, we believe in taste, and objective judgments, otherwise why do we pluck up our courage and sign our names to that review? I am firmly a-hold of two conflicting beliefs on this one. I believe that there are standards, and I believe they depend a lot. I still can’t judge rap music, but it is clear to me that some of it is better than others, and that as a musical form it matters. Jazz doesn’t make music for me in its classical form, but I know that it is good, even if it makes me want to leave the room.

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Tikki Tikki Tembo and Cultural Accuracy in Folktales

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4 Jun 1998

Shwu-yi Leu

I hope that people realize that “Tikki Tikki Tembo” contains very INCORRECT information about Chinese culture. Naming your first child a long long name and, second child, a name of “little or nothing,” is NOT TRUE at all in Chinese culture. “Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo” simply bears no resemblance to a Chinese name. People ususally have two or just one characters for their given names. In Chinese culture, it is important to understand that one needs to know the meaning of a  character when naming a child. The length of the name has no importance. Also, “Chang” is NOT “little or nothing.” The author should have done some homework before writing the story.

What’s even more disturbing is that the introduction written inside the book jacket made the story sound like a real folklore. Here’s the first paragraph:

“What’s in a name? A great deal, according to the Chinese of long ago, who honored their “first and honored” son with a grand long name but gave their second sons, of little importance, hardly any name at all! This special treatment of heirs is delightfully put down by Arlene Mosel in her humorous retelling of a favorite folktale of how the Chinese came to give ALL their children short names…”


4 Jun 1998
Mark Matthews

‘”Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo” simply bears no resemblance to a Chinese name. People ususally have two or just one characters for their given names.’

Wait a second! This tale is an explanation of why Chinese *do* give just one or two characters to their children. Your complaint is sort of like saying, “hey, Kipling, but elephants do have long trunks!”

That this is not a retold folktale does amaze me. Why would the author of such a memorable tale agree to having the the words “retold by” on the cover? Marketing? Please send more evidence of this.

And frankly, if the author did make it up, what harm is there in it? Really now! The book explains a truth–that Chinese give short names to their children. That the truth is explained with a falsehood is mere fun; mere storytelling–harming no one.
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A Wrinkle In Time for Second Graders?

Child_lit Listserv Discussion Archive

A Wrinkle In Time for Second Graders?

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Originally posted on: Sat, 21 Jan 1995 by Kathleen Jo Powell Hannah


Chris Saad writes:
I read _A Wrinkle in Time_ aloud to a class of 2nd graders. It was over some kids’ heads, but many other kids loved it and looked forward to each day’s chapter.

Monica Edinger replies:
Oh, I wish you hadn’t done that! Those kids’ heads you read over may well have been turned off for good. That is a mighty long book to read to 2nd graders, especially for those who were not enjoying it. I am sure there are other books that more of the class would have enjoyed that connect to astronomy. I’m glad some looked forward to it, but what about those who didn’t?


I’m interested in this dichotomy. If we do as Chris would do, we interest smart kids & bore not-so-smart ones. If we do as Monica would do, we interest not-so-smart kids & lose smarter ones. Which is the lesser of the two evils? I (and probably many others on this list) feel as if I was the victim of the least-common-denominator method of education; no one really expected me to live up to my potential, so I probably wasn’t introduced to a lot of books that might have pushed me a bit harder. Obviously, the best teachers are aware of this & try to recommend books that will suit the various levels of intellect in their classes. But not all of them do. What are everyone’s thoughts on this subject: do we challenge above average students, ask average students to struggle to understand, and lose below average students; or do we challenge below average students and bore average and above average? Or is there some other way to handle this?


Originally posted on Sat, 21 Jan 1995 by Faythe Dyrud Thureen

Chris Saad: How fortunate your second graders were to have you read aloud to them A Wrinkle in Time, a beautifully-written, exciting book. Most children don’t have access to such books until their reading ability lines up with the book’s reading level. Their minds, however, are ready to handle the content long before most of their reading abilities. I read this book, as well as all the Narnia books, the Laura Ingalls Wilders books (complete with Mom’s comments and discussion), and many others to my son and daughter BEFORE they started school. As teenagers, they still make comments that remind me that they remember them well. –When it comes to read alouds, I think it’s good occasionally to ere on the side of reading over a couple kids’ heads rather than never challenging and delighting most of them.

Originally posted on: Sat, 21 Jan 1995 by fairrosa


On Sat, 21 Jan 1995, Kathleen Jo Powell Hannah wrote:
I’m interested in this dichotomy. If we do as Chris would do, we interest smart kids & bore not-so-smart ones. If we do as Monica would do, we interest not-so-smart kids & lose smarter ones. Which is the lesser of the two evils?


First of all, 2nd graders who cannot enjoy or grasp _Wrinkle in Time_ are not necessarily not-so-smart kids. Do we really “lose” the “smarter” kids if we wait until they are 4th-6th grade to share that book with them or to share that book with them in smaller group or one-on-one?

I’m in the most part favoring a somewhat “elite education.” I, ever since I was in junior high, have believed that people (I never thought of myself as a “kid” or “small adult” but always a “person”) who have more potential should get more encouragement to develop their talents/capabilities/whatever-you-call-it. But, I also realize as I grew older that I often say “Oh, that book (or that thing, or that music…). I read it when I was 10 (11, 12, 13..). Yeh, it’s fine. It’s alright.” And then, if I’m lucky, I’ll re-read that book and be surprised that I didn’t see many more sophisticated layers of the book as a younger me. Then, I become a little more cautious at recommending a book to a young person just because he or she is “capable” of reading through the book without stopping every 3rd word to check the dictionary. I really don’t want to “rob” the many wonderful meanings or allusions of a good book from a young person.

My 8th grade teacher once said to me, “Why do you want to live ahead of your age? Stay here and enjoy the only one “14th” year of your life and wait till you’re 17 to enjoy that age.” I took her advice and stopped being an “old child.” I am forever indebted to her for all the wonderful friendship and happiness of a teenager I had!


Originally posted on: Mon, 23 Jan 1995 by Monica R. Edinger

fairrosa writes:
“I’m in the most part favoring a somewhat “elite education.”

Me too! Of course there are 2nd graders who will love “A Wrinkle in Time.” They should be encouraged to read it or have it read to them. Chris described reading it to a class to enrich his astronomy unit. I think there is a big difference between reading a book aloud to a whole heterogeneous class and inviting individual children or a small group to read it.

I have a reputation at my school as providing a “cerebral” curriculum (whatever that means!) Some parents want it, others think I should be teaching high school rather than fourth grade! So, I totally believe in teaching above, not to the so-called lowest common denominator. Now, Chris may have totally won over most of his kids with his reading of “Wrinkle in Time” just because of his enthusiasm. I’m just concerned about the percentage of kids in the group who were totally put off. Meg and Calvin are way beyond 2nd grade and some of the stuff about tesselating is pretty complicated. I just have an image of some of those seven year olds totally lost day after day as the book was read to them.


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