I’ve got friends who, at age 20 (or 30) could tell you right away what their favorite kids books were (and are), but for some reason I’ve never been that interested in kids’ books, at least not since I was a kid.
I have trouble remembering, too, what my favorite books were. Maybe it’s a symptom of moving around so much as a kid and changing languages to boot (from French with some English to English only). The Pooh books were my first chapter books, and later on I made my way through Encyclopedia Brown, Hardy Boys, all of Judy Blume, a bunch of Xanth books, and various Secret Seven adventures. But I don’t remember what the picture books were. Probably some Seuss. Richard Scarry. Don’t know if I ever got Goodnight Moon.
(When I moved into adult books, it was the Bourne Identity and the sci-fi oeuvre of Michael Crichton, especially Terminal Man and Andromeda Strain. The school library was stocked with this stuff. I have gone back and looked at these books, and frankly I find them hard to read. I can’t get past the bad prose. I can’t suspend my disbelief while also navigating those sentences. Occupational hazard.)
But now I’ve got a kid, a kid who’s really into his books, and so I’m visiting (and revisiting) all kinds of kids’ titles. We’re in the picture book stage still, though he does go in for a chapter of Pooh now and then, and it’s astonishing to me what’s out there.
Frank Conroy used to say that in good work, you could feel the soul of the writer behind the sentences. The same goes for kids’ books. Some are sublime and magical, many more are creaky and didactic. The brilliance of Seuss is his command of the language and his judicious use of the absurd. The weakness of so many other books is the insistence on delivering a message, however well-intentioned, to a captive and underestimated audience.
I’ve got more to say on the subject, but I’ll save it for a future post. I’ve got a novel to write. Meanwhile, have you got any favorite children’s books? Any that miss the mark but remain inexplicably popular? Can anyone explain to me what’s going on in “My World”?