This article made me very mad this week. The author of the editorial slams children’s librarians for not offering the “classics” of children’s literature on their reading lists. He says that we are doing a disservice to children by pointing them to the “formula fiction.”
Why not assign books that ask students to use their imaginations? Generations of young people have enjoyed classics like “Black Beauty,” “Little Women,” and “The Wind in the Willows.” Why should kids today be any different? The success of movies like the “Chronicles of Narnia,” in addition to the popularity of the Harry Potter books, show that kids like to get out of their own narrow world and have new experiences, even if they are vicarious ones. No doubt there are children who will be inspired to read by “Ready for Takeoff,” the story of a boy who “learns about friendship and kindness as he encounters two very different school bus drivers.” But books like “The Secret Garden” or “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” would surely inspire them more.
Clearly, this person doesn’t care about nor does he “get” children. (actually, what we are really talking about here are pre-teens and teenagers. Children don’t read Treasure Island. They aren’t developmentally ready for it.) As soon as one force-feeds something on a kid they don’t want to read it. Doesn’t he remember being a kid? They are rebellious by nature. All of them. The point is to GET THEM TO READ. It really doesn’t matter what it is. We want them to get excited about reading! We want them to keep up their reading skills during the summer so that when they go back to school and are forced to read stuffy old classics like “20,000 leagues under the sea” they might actually want to.
Another little point I want to make is that he uses interest in Harry Potter books to make the point that kids are capable of using their imagination. Excuse me? Has he even bothered to read ALL of the Harry Potter books? As much as I love them (and I truly do) they are about as “formula-fiction” as it gets! And it’s not the best writing in the world, either. But that’s okay! Because the story is still great and the books are getting kids to actually read again!
Another little point is that he quotes a Norte Dame english professor who disapproves of librarians offering “formula fiction” to kids. Gee. big surprise that an ENGLISH PROFESSOR at a stuffy old Jesuit University is going to be against people reading the classics. That’s just hilarious.
I bet he would just completely have a coronary if I told him that one of my courses at UCSC when I was a literature major was “The Films of John Carpenter.” Yep. The guy who did Halloween. It was taught by a brilliant professor who’s main area of expertise was Chaucer. But he managed to make this John Carpenter class very academic. And (God forbid) It was fun, too! Imagine. One having fun while they are learning. What a strange concept!
I guess the point is that, if you are a good student of literature, you will see that good literature is everywhere. Not in just the classics. (This writer would also probably freak out if I tell him that we also point the kids to (oh no!) graphic novels, too.) There are plenty of really good up and coming children’s authors right now, and, I am told, that many of the books that he mentioned as “fluff” are actually very good books. Did he read them? I’m certain he didn’t.
And you know what? Who cares if they are reading genre or formula, or whatever kind of fiction? Why can’t we leave them alone and just let them read? I can think of plenty of worse things they could be doing besides READING. Good Lord.