We really love books around here, if you hadn't guessed. And one of the benefits of loving books and having children who love books is reading to them. There is nothing better than having a child (or two or three) snuggled up next to you while you all enjoy a really good book together. If the book is not so great, well, it's still nice to have the snuggly children, but the book gets read really, really fast. For the most part, I have purged our collection here at home of books that J. and I avoid reading for one reason or another, but library books are another story. I do flip through most of them before they come home, but I admit to not reading through them and that sometimes a few will sneak through that I didn't know about. This cursory glance can weed out the more egregious examples of children's literature, but not all.
Does anyone else feel that the type of picture available to children... the new ones published in the past few year... seem to be lacking? Or is it just me? (I'm OK with it being just me. In fact I'm rather used to it.) But here is what I've been noticing.
First of all, where the heck is the plot?! More and more I'll pick up a book with a promising title or cover and look through it only to discover there is no story. Either it is a concept book or it is a vehicle for interesting pictures and little vignettes, but there is nothing really happening. They don't make for very interesting reading aloud. Books without a story also don't promote good listening skills. There is no motivation for the child to attend to what is being read because there is nothing to miss. If you tune out for a few pages, you can tune back in and the story still makes as much sense as it did before. In my humble opinion, this style of book only encourages shortened attention spans rather than promoting longer ones.
Next, I'm a little less than thrilled with some of the artwork. Can I just say that some of it is rather ugly? Are we allowed to say that? I hope so, because it is. Some books I look at and put right back on the shelf because I cannot imagine letting my little children stare at those images. They are not uplifting nor even contain identifiable images sometimes. I really am not sure 'edgy' really has a place in children's literature. That can be saved for older children and adults who already have their sensitivities formed.
Finally, did some of these author's forget the fact that they are writing for children? I think they did or they have never been around actual children. Why? Because increasingly children's books are written for adults. There is a real art in writing a children's book which is enjoyable for adults, but also appropriate for children. This is different than writing a book for an adult, but that appears to be aimed at children. Take the latest hot children's book, Where Is My Hat? I have to admit that I am not really thrilled with it, and realize that I am probably the only adult on the planet to feel this way. But I did a little experiment. I brought the book home and had various children read it. (I have a wide range of ages, you know.) B. loved it. Loved it. He laughed out loud. A. and P. kind of went, "Eh. It's OK." TM, D. and K., those to whom it should appeal based on what it is, were clueless. They didn't like it. They didn't understand it. They wanted to know why B. was laughing so hard. It's not a children's book, but a picture book for adults. (Or perhaps 16 year old boys.) I'm afraid that this is the direction in which children's publishing is moving. Fewer and fewer authors are actually writing for children, and instead are writing adult books in children's book guise. Those that are aimed at children treat them as if they had no brain and could not follow a plot.
And children can follow plot and enjoy it. Some of G and L.'s favorite books are the Frances books by Russell Hoban. These are books that tell a story. And a good, age appropriate story. They have quite a bit of text on a page and the not only will G. and L. sit through them to the end, they will ask for them and become excited by the thought of listening to them. I do not think my girls are exceptional; it's just that they have had a lot of practice listening to stories. Real stories. We sell our children short if we do pick carefully what we are reading to them. When you choose your children's books, ask yourself a few questions as to what this is doing to your child. Be discerning. It probably doesn't hurt to let the librarians know what you're looking for as well. The more parents demand decent books for their children, the more likely they are to be published.