Children’s Literature isn’t just enjoyed by Children however. In fact, one of the subtler pleasures of Children’s literature is the transformative effect it can have on us as adults. It can remind us of of the things worth passing on, the best of civilization, the very things we’re too busy to remember ourselves.
My son received a handsome gift edition of The Jungle Book for Christmas. The whole family has been enjoying it. Characters switch positions faster than square dancers in Kipling’s stories about Mowgli. The story of Kaa’s Hunting, my favorite, is all about Turnabout – seeing yourself on the other side of the table. Watching our favorites, our heroes go round and round, changing sides, confusing their positions and forgetting where they are, it’s easier to see why sometimes tables need to be turned over.
Even a child’s book on manners reminds us, adults, grown-ups, of how we should treat each other. We forget how the simple niceties are the kindness we should expect from one another. Not so grown up, I guess.
Harold Bloom, who does not prefer to use the title Children’s Literature (this doesn’t mean he can come up with a better phrase, though), seems to think the stories we tell to our children help them to be separate and distinct, building up the individual to fight off the despair of the solitary life. I disagree. In the introduction to his excellent, yet poorly titled, collection of stories for children he notes that the Homeric epics were chanted aloud to audiences and that Chaucer wrote in order to read his work aloud at the royal court. The works that have shaped us were meant to be enjoyed together. I think no book can be for a child alone.
I’d appreciate any tips you have on picking out good stories or any recommendations on stories for children you might have. Please let me know in the comments.
N.B. Miyamoto Musashi is a terrible children’s writer. He will fill a child’s head up with exactly the wrong sort of “silly” ideas. I have almost no idea where the picture at the top of this post came from.
… and that’s not my son in the picture.