Service of Grownup Books for Children

May 11th, 2015

Categories: Awards, Books, Children's Books

 

MaddisFridge9781936261291

Eliza bingThe grownup subjects for books written for even the youngest children is a trend I’ve observed since I first wrote about The Christopher Awards and its winning children’s books in 2010. Forgiveness, hunger, ADHD, being an outcast orphan in Africa and dyslexia were topics for youngsters in pre-school, kindergarten and those aged six, eight and 10. These mature topics are moon miles from my beloved Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline series or Dick, Jane and Spot. The Christophers honor these hardbacks for young people along with books for adults, films and TV/cable programs and present the awards to authors, illustrators, writers, producers and directors whose work “affirms the highest values of the human spirit.”

Hope SpringsPersonal experiences inspired the authors to pick their topics whether Henry Winkler–the Fonz—who is dyslexic; Carmella Van Vleet whose daughter suffers from ADHD; Lois Brandt whose childhood friend’s refrigerator was shockingly empty and Eric Walters who founded and runs the Creation of Hope, an organization to care for orphans in Kenya’s Mbooni District. As for Nicole Lataif’s subject–forgiveness–who hasn’t struggled with this?

Are you surprised at the sophistication of these subjects for little ones? Do you think that topics covered in children’s books reflect their era? If this is so, how come some last for generations? What books you read as a child–or to your children–made the biggest impression on you?

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Preschool and up: I Forgive You (Pauline Books and Media) by Nicole Lataif, illustrated by Katy Betz ; Kindergarten and up Maddi’s Fridge (Flashlight Press) by Lois Brandt, illustrated by Vin Vogel; Ages 6 and up Here’s Hank: Bookmarks Are People Too! (Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin) by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver; Ages 8 and up Hope Springs (Tundra Books/Random House) by Eric Walters, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes; Ages 10 and up Eliza Bing Is (Not) a Big, Fat Quitter (Holiday House) by CarmellaVan Vleet

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15 Responses to “Service of Grownup Books for Children”

  1. David Reich Said:

    So true, how children’s books seem to be dealing with adult topics these days.

    Maybe there were books like these when I was young, but they were few and far between. I recall when I asked my parents, at about age 4 when my sister was born, that dreaded question about where do babies come from, they got a book titled “Where do babies come from” at the local library. Roz and I may have used that same book when our kids asked the question.

    Now, in addition to the books you highlight here, kids books even deal with bodily functions. I must admit that I snickered (unseen, I hope) when I saw in my grandson’s room books called “Everybody Poops” and “Everybody Farts.”

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    David,

    Hysterical! I’m not sure that those you mention at the end would be as much fun to write as the books on The Christophers’ list of winning books though. Imagine cocktail party conversation: “Gee, Frank, so what are you writing these days?”

    I remember seeing the “Where do babies come from” book in Miss Woods’ first grade classroom where we read it together.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    As one engaged in constant fights for “living” in the adult section of the local public library from the age of ten, it’s easy to understand where “appropriate” books for youngsters may be too dull for many in that age group take or give a year or two.

    If the mind of a pre-teen was not as empty and naïve as imagined at the time I was growing up eons ago, it may well have developed even further by now. My vote is to give children free range in a library, and stop blocking any inborn love of reading and learning. Many books written for children may be as boring as hell for all but the marginally retarded, so why shackle budding minds?

    Eventually “my” librarians became tired of arguing and let me borrow the books. Topic? Exploring the African Veldt. On occasion, I still wonder what all the fuss and feathers was about.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    I didn’t realize that children weren’t or aren’t allowed to take out adult books.

    You have proved the need fulfilled by these authors for deep-dish topics for children as young as three and four. I think the age guidelines are to help gift-givers–like clothing sizes. How many two year olds wear size four? When I was 13 I was reading Seventeen Magazine. I think that was and is standard.

    One of my favorite books was “Jeanne-Marie Counts her Sheep.” Until my mother’s friend Alice Nisula sent me the book as a Christmas gift, I had never before seen my name in print, spelled correctly and with the hyphen. It was a thrill on a book cover. I loved the Goop series and as noted in the post, Madeleine. But none covered thought-provoking subjects such as these and “Exploring the African Veldt.”

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    Children were permitted a limited range of books when I was growing up. That may have changed.

    As recently as the 1990s, there were efforts by some groups in New York to ban certain books then on school shelves, and talk of book burning as well. We’re not as far from 15th Century Florence as we would like to think.

  6. Jeremiah Said:

    Stories for children have probably been around as long as mankind. There is no way of knowing for sure. And these stories were nearly always intended to educate; witness Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey,” and much of the “Bible.” As would be expected, the messages sent have changed over time to be current with fashions of the day.

    Amongst the books I remember best from childhood, were Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn,” arguably the greatest American novel ever written, and Booth Tarkington’s “Penrod” trilogy. As a young boy who did not know this country well, especially West of the Hudson or South of the Potomac River, what I learned from them has been most helpful in sensitive and contentious areas such as race relations.

    The one reservation I have about books which are designed to “educate” children is that they tend not to teach skepticism. I was most fortunate as an adolescent to attend a school that believed we should learn how to make our own minds up based on what we found out for ourselves. Consequently, I was able to “unlearn” some of what I had been taught as a child.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    I just Googled “recently banned books” and came up with a Sept. 2013 article by Lauren Hansen and Theunis Bates, “America’s most surprising banned books,” http://theweek.com/articles/459795/americas-most-surprising-banned-books.

    It begins, “To critics and lovers of literature, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is a masterpiece that captures the grim realities of racial discrimination in 20th-century America. But thanks to a ban passed by the local board of education, school kids in Randolph County, N.C, won’t be able find that novel in their library.” The authors, who start with this book, report that it won a National Book Award in 1953.

  8. Lucrezia Said:

    North Carolina, eh? Is that surprising?

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Jeremiah,

    The books are designed to inspire rather than merely to educate the children which is something that The Christophers espouses. The ancient Chinese proverb—“It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness”— guides its publishing, radio, leadership and awards programs.

    These books don’t camouflage hunger or sugar coat dyslexia for example. In the former instance Maddi, in Lois Brandt’s book, offers suggestions of how a child could help a hungry family, empowering a youngster to think he/she might make a difference. In the latter case Henry Winkler’s character doesn’t end up top of his class or miraculously learn to read better than his fellow classmates. But his ingenuity saves the day for another student–and the class—during the play’s performance.

    Where are any of us without hope within reason?

  10. Iris Bell Said:

    Dear Jeanne,
    I’ve been reading this book:
    “John Locke and Children’s Books in 18th Century England.” Here’s an excerpt from it:
    http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/chq/summary/v008/8.2.rosenthal.html
    “This is a great way of getting a long term perspective
    on books meant for children. From Locke people got his new
    thought that ideas weren’t innate but had to be learned, that
    children needed to be taught what was right and wrong.”
    At the other end of the idea spectrum, 6 of the 20 top selling
    children’s books on Amazon are coloring books. Many of those
    are sold to adults:
    http://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Books-Childrens/zgbs/books/4/ref=zg_bs_nav_b_1_b

  11. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Iris,

    Your comment made my mind dash off in several directions. I thought of painters who first learn figurative art before discovering their own styles and writers who read hundreds of books before finding their own voice. I can only hope that stories come with the coloring books and that some of the children who most enjoy the colors and the feel of pencil and crayon on paper one day either become great artists or art appreciators.

  12. Iris Bell Said:

    The books for coloring are a different world than books
    for reading. They’re something adults and children are doing
    that doesn’t happen on a screen. Plus these new coloring books
    are different from the normal kind. These new ones are made
    of small patterns. Adults use them to relax.
    Last night I was looking at the books related to the movie
    Frozen. These books for children are all offered as ebooks
    and print. I don’t know what percentage of kids’ books are
    sold as ebooks…but I assume it goes up each year. It’s good
    for things such as being able to look up definitions.
    And related to looking up words:
    I just learned of a Kindle Word Wise setting: It has a slide
    related to difficulty of words. It’s for people reading above their
    usual vocabulary level.
    The “difficult” words have a 1 to 6 word definition above
    them. Readers don’t have to stop to look up a word. It sounds
    great to me, but we’ll have to see how the market responds
    to it. You can see a sample here:
    http://blog.the-ebook-reader.com/2014/11/16/kindle-word-wise-review-and-free-ebook-samples

  13. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Iris,

    To relax my great aunt hooked rugs–she made magnificent ones–when she wasn’t translating/typing books into brail for The Lighthouse on a special machine parked in her front hall/dining room. [When she got too old to do this type of work she read the books on tape.] I wonder how she would have taken to these coloring books?

    I found fascinating the Kindle word definition function. I guess if it’s annoying, the reader doesn’t set it in motion.

  14. Martha Takayama Said:

    I don’t like censorship nor do I think it is practical. Overly pretentious efforts at political correctness can be confusing or oppressive. One does want to inculcate wholesome values, but then we might have to eliminate some fairy tales. I adored the different colored volumes of fairy tales in grade school, also liked the series of biographies with orange covers and classics. Or books that were for a higher grade, I also liked the beautifully illustrated Caldecott books, and Winnie the Pooh. Even now I always give babies Robert Mccloskey’s “make way for the ducklings.”

  15. Iris Bell Said:

    It’s only for people who want to use it and they set the difficulty level.

    Imagine a 14 year old reading Shakespeare or their first adult novel or history book…or
    someone any age reading a science book in an area where they have little knowledge. It’s like creating your own footnotes.

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