Human beings are wired to process life through stories. This is particularly true of children. We adults give stories to children as a matter of course, but most of us don’t take children’s literature seriously enough.
Picture books are an especially powerful form of story. Picture books are handed to an audience that is inexperienced, impressionable, and wired to imitate whatever they see. Moreover, because picture books are so short, they are often read over and over, easily fostering a deep relationship between the content and the child.
Most of you were influenced by the stories adults gave you in your formative years. Directly or indirectly, they answered some of the questions children are designed to wonder about.
“What should I do when I’m afraid? How do I know what is true? Is it OK to lie? When should I follow others, and when should I go it alone? What happens when adults fail? How do normal families treat each other? Can I be a dinosaur when I grow up?”
I’m willing to bet the answers you found in children’s books influenced who you are. Admittedly, the influence may be hard to spot. Most books reflect the values of their decade, and that made them almost invisible messengers of ideas that seemed, at the time, self-evident.
It’s a fun exercise to read through a stack of children’s books from different time periods. The enduring classics are usually somewhat timeless, but the random, ordinary ones are amusingly easy to sort into piles without having to look at the copyright date. They demonstrate the popular values of their specific period precisely because the content of a picture book is, more or less, what some adult wanted to tell children about life.
Moralism Also Destroys Story
I wrote earlier that few people take children’s literature seriously enough. However, it is also true that some adults today take it far too seriously. It’s increasingly popular to write with an earnest heavy-handedness that hasn’t been seen since the Victorian period.
For instance, Innosanto Nagara’s “A is for Activist” is described by Occupy Wall Street as
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