Saturday, January 14, 2012

Discussion/Ramblings - radical children's literature

A few months ago, right at the beginning of the Occupy Wall Street movement I came across an article discussing the wrongs and rights of what was called “radical children’s literature”. I can’t find the article itself anymore, but the book that this article pointed out was called Tales For Little Rebels – A Collection of Radical Children’s Literature and contains forty or so stories, illustrations, poems and other writings for children by authors and illustrators such as Lucille Clifton, Syd Hoff, Langston Hughes, Walt Kelly, Norma Klein, Munro Leaf, Julius Lester, Eve Merriam, Charlotte Pomerantz, Carl Sandburg and Dr. Seuss. I haven’t read the collection myself, but each article in the book supposedly contains some historical background and the author’s biography. The main theme of this publication is of course “radical” literature and its intent to make one think and question, all of these articles aimed at children. But isn’t that what the whole point of education is anyway? To learn how to think for oneself and make up one’s own mind? Are these publications considered “radical” just because they have some kind of political opinion (towards the left)? In general isn’t literature full of opinions and views and ideas? As a writer myself I know how hard it is to write something that doesn’t contain anything of yourself – actually pretty much impossible (unless you want to produce a bland string of words that are not going to interest anyone). Think I am just really intrigued on why these authors are considered radical, whereas others aren’t. All the literature I remember reading as a child was full of opinions and views, some of which I agreed with, others that I still remember questioning (and probably still do today).

I suppose I am too removed from the literature that is offered to children nowadays. I don’t have kids, I haven’t been a nanny in years and most of my friends who have children don’t live in this country. I still have the impression that it’s all about Enid Blyton, Judy Blume, Tintin, Huckleberry Finn, Dr Seuss, Flicka, Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Dickens, George Orwell, The Secret Garden, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Noel Streatfeild, Pippi Longstocking, Robinson Crusoe and these are the types of books that I will read to my children when I have them. I still have a lot of my old children’s books and will still read them now and again, just to try and recreate that feeling that they gave me when I was so much younger. Nothing like reading Enid Blyton’s The Secret Island and imagining how you could also run away from everything you dislike and make a secret life for yourself and your friends on an island. Or pretending you are Oliver Twist, running around the streets of London, hiding from Fagin and Bill Sykes. Or jumping on a plane with Tintin and falling into different adventures all over the world. Imagining the world governed by pigs standing up on their hind legs, wearing suits and smoking cigars (I still imagine Napoleon in Animal Farm to look like a pig version of Roosevelt and Churchill mixed together, don’t ask why). I wouldn’t really consider any of the above as “radical”, but they are definitely thought-provoking and in some way, character-forming. I don’t think I have ever read a good book, finished it, and not thought about it for days afterwards (not the use of the adjective “good” here). Many of the books I read as a child have stayed with me until this day, however outdated they may seem – yes, I am well aware of the fact that nowadays pre-teens would not be able to bike around the countryside of England by themselves for days on end, but how much fun is it to imagine that you can actually do this?

In any case, I really want to read this group of stories and illustrations, just because it sounds like a good collection of works by important writers and illustrators. Whether it really should be considered “radical” is another question that I will answer once I have had the chance to read it. That won’t happen until I have paid off my rent and overdue credit card payments, but once I have purchased and read it I will post about it. In the meantime I would love to get some examples of what is considered to be radical children’s literature of today and the past, and why it is considered radical…

To be continued...

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