Tatar, writing in The New York Times, looks at the changing standards for
children’s books, comparing classics such as Peter Pan and Alice’s Adventure’s
in Wonderland to modern works like Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Suzanne
Collin’s trilogy The Hunger Games.
chair of Harvard’s folklore and mythology program, and editor of the just released The Annotated Peter Pan, observes that “the
traditional villains of children’s books [are] fabulous monsters with a touch
of the absurd. Like
Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things and countless others, they walk a fine line
between horror and zany eccentricity. They may frighten young readers, but
their juvenile antics strip them of any real authority. ...
authors of more recent books for children and teenagers have similarly crossed
over to the dark side, and we applaud them for it. But the savagery we offer
children today is more unforgiving than it once was, and the shadows are rarely
banished by comic relief. ... Children today get an unprecedented dose of adult reality in their books, sometimes without the redemptive beauty, cathartic humor and healing magic of an earlier time."
this good or bad? Tatar quotes Philip Pullman, author of the trilogy The Dark
Materials, who sees a positive side to the shift to more realistic story lines: " ‘There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction. They can
only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book.’ ” Tatar adds that this might
explain why “so many adults can be found browsing books in the children’s
section and why books for children and young adults dominate best-seller lists.”
she concludes, “it is hard not to
mourn the decline of the literary tradition invented by Carroll and Barrie, for
they also bridged generational divides. No other writers more fully entered the
imaginative worlds of children—where danger is balanced by enchantment—and
reproduced their magic on the page. In today’s stories, those safety zones are
rapidly vanishing as adult anxieties edge out childhood fantasy.”
do you think about the tone and tenor of children’s literature today?
P.S. Here's a related post from FlavorWire, courtesy of Andre at Gotham Writer's Workshop: 10 children's books that are also great fun for adults. Enjoy!