Sunday, June 13, 2010

Today's Children's Literature

I am becoming increasingly disappointed with modern children's literature. Recently I decided to add some literature to our state studies. With the help of a friend, I finally figured out how to search our library's online catalog for children's books by setting. [Do a subject search for "juvenile fiction - (insert name of state or region)". Works great!] After pulling up the books available at our library, I used to get some reviews and synopses. Keep in mind that these books are written for 9-12 year olds.

Here is one book I found set in Georgia (opinions of reviewing librarians and educators in bold):
Daniel's nickname, D-Man, came from his Uncle Clay, who has been more of a father to him than the boy's mean, beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking dad. One fall morning, Clay gives his nephew his Granddaddy's shotgun and they go out to bag a few rabbits. Daniel's queasiness about hunting is embarrassing, so he tries to mask his qualms, and, concentrating only on his relief at escaping detection, inadvertently shoots Clay. The 11-year-old's first-person narrative of the ensuing trauma describes a community doing its best to understand the accident and support the boy, except for his abusive father. Even as his mother, teacher, neighbor, school counselor, and friends attempt to help Daniel return to normal, guilt overwhelms him....These are tough topics to read about, but the book will bring up many discussions. An appendix provides statistics on gun violence and a list of sources to contact for more information.


Here's another choice book:
"Brutal" describes the life that 11-year-old Jordan and her 8-year-old brother live with their abusive father. Never knowing what will set Papa off, they are terrorized by his illogical rages that leave them bruised and clinging harder to each other: "She got a beating with the belt. Not for not coming when he called, or for where they had been-.But for talking back. Jordan only meant to be explaining, but Papa thought it was the wrong tone. And Brother got a beating, too. For whining. It was the wrong tone. It was important to not use the wrong tone with Papa.....Short chapters, believable dialogue, and elegantly simple prose combine with superb character and plot development to create a memorable and touching story. A winner.

A winner? Really? I don't care how wonderful the character and plot development is. I think my kids will pass on that book, thank you very much. Another thing that bothers me is that at least half of the juvenile fiction books at our library set in the South are about segregation, slavery and/or racism. There are also a good number set during the Civil War where the hero or heroine spies for the North or in some way aids the Northern cause. I can't help thinking that in most people's minds the South is like an embarrassing relative that one would rather not claim. I think the South has more to offer than racism and can't be defined solely by one part of its history. (Good grief, as if racism is a sin unique to the American South!)

I know there are good books for children being written by modern authors but it is just sad that so much junk is being lauded by educators. And for what purpose? I just don't get it. I don't shield my children from everything (a common criticism directed at many homeschooling parents). I don't believe children's literature has to have Disney-like happy endings for it to be good. Literature is a good way of exploring different aspects of life and the human experience. But why burden a child with graphic descriptions of abusive parents? A child has no power to change that in the real world and no way of coping with that.
Some topics are best left for when they are older.

This book sounds more promising:
Ida Early is as tall as the tales she tells, a gangly scarecrow who comes to the rural Georgia home of widower Mr. Sutton during the Depression years. Her offer to help out for a spell delights the four Sutton children and their father ... and life becomes a three-ring circus for the kids.

I'll be putting that one on hold at the library. But I'll read it before handing it over to the kids--just in case!

1 comment:

Roberta said...

I have to say that I have wondered the same thing. I picked up The Underneath last year because it was highly praised. We couldn't finish it...