The Kolbert Report
The December 4th issue of The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert surveys several picture books published in 2006. Within it, I found the single most cynical statement about children's literature I've seen this year:
If, as Joan Didion famously put it, "we tell ourselves stories in order to live," why do we tell stories to our children? In my experience, mostly it is to get them to shut up. A book read to a toddler who, after running around the house all day, has had to be stuffed, quite literally, into his pajamas, may traffic in imaginative freedom and wonder, but it is still an instrument of control. I will read this to you, and you will go to sleep. End of story.Whugh! The last thing I need is a heapin' helpin' of guilt loaded onto my family's bedtime reading, but there it is: the whiny little devil on my shoulder during our evening read, whispering, "innnnnstrument of controlllll, innnnstrument of controlllll!" in my ear.
I disagree with her almost reflexively, and yet I can't come up with an argument that counters her strongly enough to satisfy me. What parent, after a particularly trying evening with L'Enfant, can't wait to get those darn stories over and done with to have a little peace? But then again, what parent doens't want to pass along the best moments from his or her own childhood for their kids -- which frequently includes sharing favorite children's books?
The idea of children's literature as an opiate doesn't sit well with me.
Kolbert also describes Good Night, Gorilla thusly:
On the last page, the animals are uncaged and -- I assume -- like more and more kids across America, still fooling around after the adults have conked out.
Whoops. Read it again, Liz.