It Hurts When I Poop!(1) That is the actual title of an actual children’s book, though not, I’m sorry to say, the sequel to the classic Everyone Poops.(2)
No, it is an instructive children’s book meant to help youngsters through the trauma of – I don’t know – toilet training? Constipation? Hemorrhoids? At any rate, some kind of fundamental difficulty.
This seems to be the way of children’s books these days. Take a look at your local bookstore (if you still have one) or the wares at Amazon. Book after book in the children’s section are of a genre “How to Get Through the Difficulty of X.” X can be nearly anything.
In particular, The Berenstain Bears seem to have a lot of difficulties. Their books include The Berenstain Bears…
…and the Bully
…Visit the Dentist
…Learn About Strangers
…and Too Much TV
…and Too Much Junk Food
…and Too Much Teasing
…and The Bad Dream
…and the Bad Habit
…to name but a few.
And while the Bears have a bad habit of eating too much junk food and then dread visiting the dentist, other children and anthropomorphized animals cope with still other plights:
Maggie Goes on a Diet
Wilma Jean the Worry Machine
Hooway for Wodney Wat (3)
Mean Jean Recess Queen
Lacey Walker, Non Stop Talker
Olivia Acts Out (4)
The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark
Still other books seem problematic. I haven’t read Don’t Squeal Unless it’s a Big Deal, but I wonder how they expect children to differentiate. What’s a “big deal” to a kid and to a grown-up can be quite far apart on the scale of secrets.
Then there are the really problematic books. Awful Library Books (5) has singled these out for their questionable topics and premises, unpleasant underlying assumptions, and creepy illustrations:
Don’t Make Me Go Back, Mommy: A child’s book about satanic ritual abuse (6)
For Your Own Good (foster care)
I Know The World’s Worst Secret (alcoholic mother)
Please Come Home: A child’s book about divorce (7)
These are not issues that can be made “all better” with a quick “real-life” scenario and a flimsy moral.
Granted, issue-oriented children’s books have important uses, but they’re not kid lit. Parents choose them because they think the lessons will be helpful. But such books lack the essential qualities of literature: engaging, complex characters; adventurous or truly touching plot lines; satisfying stories. In a word – imagination. Good children’s literature is fun.
Think about the Harry Potter books, for example. They contain underlying messages about friendship, loyalty, and bravery, as well as standing up to bullies, dealing with disappointment and grief, and defying prejudice. All without titles like Harry Potter and the Dead Godfather.
Children clamored for these books, obsessed about them, mentally dwelt in them. When was the last time you heard a child say, “Oh, Mommy, please, please, please buy me Olivia Acts Out“? How long a waiting list does the library have for Don’t Make Me Go Back, Mommy?
Think about Green Eggs and Ham – a simple book with a simple story that does not explicitly say, “Kids, try new foods. You might like them.” It does not portray an ordinary kid-just-like-you dealing with a problem. It captures the imagination with silliness, propels the minimalist plot along with kid-friendly repetition and rhyme, and reaches a satisfying conclusion. No wonder I checked it out at the bookmobile every single time I went.(8)
There is plenty of good children’s literature for all ages, from the classics (Treasure Island, Charlotte’s Web, Where the Wild Things Are) to more modern tales (Harold and the Purple Crayon, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Gregor the Overlander).
Michael Longcor said it in his song “Imagination”:
“Imagination is a friend to help you through a friendless land.
Imagination can take you to the stars and back again.
Imagination can make you more than what you thought you’d be.
It can raise a world from ashes. It can set the spirit free.” (9)
Children’s literature crafted with imagination can free the spirit in adults as well as children. It’s something we all need.
(1) No, it doesn’t, I’m glad to say.
(2) A book I always give to new parents of my acquaintance, along with Shel Silverstein’s Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book.
(3) A book about rhotacism. Think Bawwy Kwipke. Or Rodney Rat. Now you’ve learned a new word. You’re welcome.
(4) Is it just me, or do a lot of these problem children seem to be girls?
(6) No, really. awfullibrarybooks.net/satan-for-kids/
(7) Described by Awful Library Books as “Daddy left because you were bad.”
(8) It’s still my all-time favorite book. Ever.
(9) Michael Longcor http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Longcor, “Imagination,” Kitchen Junk Drawer. Available at http://www.firebirdarts.com/product_info.php?products_id=147