Thursday, July 08, 2004

Bad books for kids

Madonna, Billy Crystal, Jimmy Fallon, Paul McCartney, Jay Leno, Will Smith. And on, and on, and on.

Is there any good children's literature being written anymore? Or is it just harder to find amid the big bucks and celebrity hype?

The battle for kiddie lit has been waged, but as yet no one is winning.

Younger children aren't to blame for what is published, because young kids don't pick their reading lists. Parents do. And apparently they suck at it, because there is a smaller and smaller market for really good picture books. . . It is not enough to give kids books. We must give them ones that don't suck ass.

I'm not worried about rich celebrities getting richer by authoring bad picture books. Writers like me aren't underpaid. Teachers are underpaid. Supermarket checkout workers are underpaid. The vast majority of writers (myself included) perform the most minor of services. But the best, whether they write for kids or adults, expand readers' understanding of what words are, and what they do. And that's why we must not give ass-sucking books by Billy Crystal and his ilk to our children, because only great books teach us how to read.

Maybe it's the genuine dearth of good kids' books that makes everyone believe they could write a better one. Everyone. As if it were an easy thing to do. Just whip off a children's story off the top of their head.

Writing for children must be one of the most difficult things a person could choose to do. You must be engaging, without being phony. Smart, without being condescending. All things moral and good, without being preachy.

Children are excellent, honest critics. If little Johnny doesn't want to read, maybe it's because the book you're giving him is crap.

But there is a small window, one in which Helena is perched now, where you can show them the pleasures of reading, the worlds books have to offer. Before she gains full independence to make her own choices.

Do children's authors not realize the responsibility they take on?

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