i have a love/hate relationship with the term “children’s book.” what exactly is a children’s book? a book for children only? written by children? young books that will some day grow up to be adult books? as children’s book week draws to a close, i really don’t have a better grasp on this conundrum. or is it an enigma? it’s so hard to tell in this light.
i know writing specifically for a children’s audience is a tough job and i have undying admiration for anyone who puts pen to paper and produces a story that delights readers or touches the heart and soul.
particularly close to my fuzzy little heart are authors of picture books. x-rays often reveal several picture book authors clustered around my left ventricle, each coaxing a rambunctious passle of words into a well behaved little story ready to inspire an illustrator to create new worlds. typing chickens, wolves living in walls or bongo-playing polar bears are rarely encountered in our daily lives, but they are alive, well and ready to come out to play at the flick of a page.
detectable by sonography are the chapter book authors working tirelessly just behind my right artria. like mad scientists, they construct their stories patiently, waiting for the day when an unsuspecting eye will fall on the words. photos will crackle, retinas will twitch and neurons will light up as the story is sucked into the brain and … it’s alive!!!! vistas from hobogen to hogwarts glow in the minds eye. ghost spring to life, mice dance and any number of alien life forms communicate in perfect english.
so, some may call these books “Children’s books.” but, let’s face it, they are the literary world’s equivalent to “gateway drugs.” yeah, the first one may be free, they make you feel good, they expand you mind and transport you to other realities. sure, we all say that we can stop any time we want, it’s just recreational, but soon, you have a library card, you’ve found out how to use the interlibrary loan system. you know every book store in any city you visit and can draw a map from memory of powell’s books aisles. amazon apps are on your iphone and your ipod is full of audio books. you’re consuming books on a regular basis. you don’t even bother to hide them. cookbooks in the kitchen, poetry in the bedroom, picture books in your office and shelves and shelves of books all over your house. what about that book on the front seat of the car should you get stopped by a train or have to wait picking someone up at the airport. you share books with friends and talk about it openly. face it, it’s an addiction!
for me, it started innocently enough with an abc book and a fairy tale here and there. but all too quickly it grew to a multibook habit. sure, my life has been fuller, i have learned and been entertained, i have escaped, i’ve expanded my horizons and seen the world from other points of view. but at what price? hours of eye strain, the occasional library fine, audiobooks when i take my morning constitutional. is that what we want for the children of the world? well is it?
daniel pinkwater always delights me. his larry series (illustrated by his talented wife) is a favorite. his chapter books are fun and more entertaining when you can listen to pinkwater himself read them on audio book.
coraline (with dave mc keen illustrations) and graveyard book, both by neil gaiman are perfect read-out-loud-books for long car rides or by the glow of a flashlight as you snuggle your sleeping bag. if you’re driving the car or your batteries are dead, mr. gaiman can read to you via audio book. (side note: i love having an author read to me and an audiobook is much less expensive than hiring the author to follow me around. granted it might be nice to share tea and nibbles with gaiman during breaks, but, keeping pinkwater in tasty nosh would be a major undertaking. )
in preparation for my upcoming trip to tibet, barbara helen berger’s book all the way to lhasa: a tale from tibet has been on my bedside table next to my constant companion, the gashlycrumb tinies by the late great edward gorey. he also illustrated a vast collection of books from hilaire belloc’s cautionary tales for children to many volumes of children’s verse by john ciardi. drop by for tea, and i’ll read you some.
mo willems, the undisputed master of pigeon and knuffle bunny literature, rocks my fashion world with naked mole rat gets dressed. while dutch sneakers and fleakeepers, by calef brown continues the legacy started by polkabats and octopus slacks.
now, please pass me that book light and close the door on your way out, ok?
is it any coincidence that cory dotorow mentions pinkwater’s newest book the yggyssey on boing boing today? yes, yes it is.