Monday, July 19, 2004

children's books and summer reading

the Times has an op-ed this weekend about summer reading and children's books here. choice bits:

'But what remains most loved, and most useful in helping children "face adversity," is the realm of fantasy, or the realm of the slightly less real world — like Louis Sachar's "Holes," for example. A universe where scary things are blunted — that is, by a blanket of fantasy — is easier to enter; it's helpful too for the main character to have access to a tiny bit of magical power. One need only to remember that Harry Potter, after all, has had to deal with the murder of his parents and an abusive foster family. His magic accompanies him; he is looked out for at every turn. Rather than confronting evil in the form of a violent realistic father, say, it is vastly less stressful for some children to contemplate evil in the form of "he who must not be named."'

i read fantasy and sci-fi a lot as a young child. quite a lot, actually. all i read, really. and i think that it was wonderful in precisely the way this piece highlights: fantasy or sci-fi allows you to deal with real problems through the cushion of unreality, allows you to disengage and think about real issues without having to face them head-on in a character and circumstance identical to yours. there's a layer of comfort that comes from it being another world, or characters with more arms/legs/feet than yours, or knowing that the kids in the stories have some kind of magical protection in the form of parents/inherent magic/fairy godmothers. it's knowing that endings are almost always happy, even if they are bittersweet.

'We seem to have lost sight of what children can actually process, and more important, of their own innate capacities. Instead of our children being free to roam and dream and invent on their own timetable, and to read about children doing such things, we increasingly ask our children to be sober and hard-working at every turn, to take detailed notes on their required texts with Talmudic attention, to endure computer-generated tests. And the texts we require them to pore over have become all too often about guarded, world-weary, overburdened children, who are spending their childhoods trying to cope with the mess their parents left them.'

read the whole piece. oh, and the other op-ed too: Harry Potter, Market Wiz on Hogwarts and -gasp- capitalism.


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