Thursday, October 15, 2009

This just seems incendiary

The New Yorker's blog had this bit recently, essentially saying it's impossible to find picture books with competent parents written after 1960:

Bad, Mommy, Bad!
“In this confrontation-averse age of parenting, in which the ‘escalation’ of emotions is considered a mark of failure, a favorite way of inculcating discipline is the reading of picture books,” Daniel Zalewski writes this week in the magazine. Alas, today’s parents, searching for a children’s book in which misbehavior has unsavory consequences and authority rests solely with adults, may find themselves disappointed with the current crop of titles. “The parents in today’s stories suffer the same diminution in authority felt by the parents reading them aloud (an hour past bedtime). The typical adult in a contemporary picture book is harried and befuddled, scurrying to fulfill a child’s wishes and then hesitantly drawing the line.” To make matters worse, the typical child in a picture book not only misbehaves, he or she does so with such panache that transgression takes on “the quality of art.”

If you are the parent of a young child, what are you to do? You could boldly draw a line, and refuse to purchase any kids’ books published after 1960, but do you really think your toddler is going to let you get away with not reading her today’s hottest titles? For an inkling of what might happen if you pull a stunt like that, consult the books in Zalewski’s piece. (Read the rest of the post, and click on to the full story, if you can stomach it.)

What do you think? Do you agree that weak parenting and bad children are the glorified norm in today's picture books? What are popular counter-examples?

1 comment:

Erika Parker Price said...

My initial thought was to completely disagree with the New Yorker so I headed off to look at my family's picture book shelf and learned a few things...

1) A lot of our books are about animals, not people. Maybe that is just my family's preference, but I'm sure there are more books today with animals as a main character than pre-1960. Perhaps this is why the editors keep insisting they don't want any more talking animals. Even though they are animals, they can still teach good lessons and values.

2) Books of today are told more from the child's point of view than the adult. A kid already knows they are supposed to brush their teeth and mind their parents - do they really want to read a book about that? Even the books that do have really rotten children teach lessons in their own funny way.

3) There are good counter-examples. One of our favorites is "17 Things i'm not allowed to do anymore" by Jenny Offill and Nancy Carpenter. The girl breaks the rules (17 times), but she does not get away with it. The reader gets to enjoy her rebellion, but also sees (even in the title) that she didn't get away with it.

Personally, I'm just fine with today's picture books the way they are - and I still love to read all the old classics too!