Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

Is There Nonsense in the Dark Side?

on May 20, 2012

With the passing of Maurice Sendak, seems like everyone is talking about the dark side.

Where the Wild Things Are was groundbreaking, yes, but it followed the tradition of dealing with our innermost fears by telling stories. No one who really looks at Little Red Riding Hood can miss the fear of the wolf and of being eaten. Three Billy Goats Gruff certainly plays to our fear of hidden danger. And Cinderella is full of abandonment and abuse. Amazingly, all four of these tales end happily, which still seems to be a criterion for modern day picture books.

So how do we decide how much angst to include in stories and when children are ready for the fears explored within the pages?  Obviously, reading the story itself should monitored by parents and teachers, depending on the sensitivity of the individual child, but that doesn’t help very much from the writing/publishing end of things.

In my opinion, adults tend to over-explain with children. You need to listen to the question and answer that. What I mean is: what does the child need to know about the world in order to function? Children are exposed to more “adult” subjects than we were fifty or even twenty years ago, but children do tend to tune out what they don’t understand. For example, watching Bugs Bunny cartoons again after all these years, I laugh at different jokes than I used to. Or I laugh at the same jokes for different reasons. If a child, especially a very young child, asks you a question, listen to what they’re asking. Don’t answer “Where do babies come from?” with an anatomy lesson. If there are monsters under the bed, chase the away and be done with it. If Max and your Teddy bear can’t keep them away, they are very pesky indeed. Don’t say there are no monsters.

The fact is, scary things do exist. Most of them are not as nameless as the monsters under the bed. Kids notice the scary things and need to have them addressed. Having all sweetness and light in children’s books might make adults feel better but they do nothing to help kids deal with the world they live in. It’s all in the approach. And Maurice Sendak had a great approach. We will miss you.

Still debating about my next subject. Maybe a specific book or author. Stay tuned.

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2 responses to “Is There Nonsense in the Dark Side?

  1. ediehemingway says:

    Sue,
    I completely agree that parents should listen carefully and answer the “actual” question a child asks. Very interesting post!

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