I had, in my mind, some of the prescribed generalizations that people have about children’s books, but I thought that I would conduct a small-scale poll of my own. I had printed out a hard copy of the assignment and had brought it to my boyfriend’s house so that I could generate ideas while he watched a basketball game (he’s a die-hard Pistons fan). During one of the intermissions, he leaned over and read the assignment sheet and asked me the golden question, “Generalization about children’s books? What does that mean? “. Ah, my research had begun.
I asked him to imagine a children’s book in his hand and to tell me what was inside. He had pictured a Doctor Seuss’ book and recounted generalizations such as, a large font, silly, uncomplicated words, colourful pictures, elementary plot, short, simple sentence structure and rhyming words. I felt my boyfriend had succinctly narrowed into the public’s general thoughts about children’s literature far more than I could have, probably because I have studied children’s literature and know differently, or do I? In this world there are generalizations that are absolutely false.
They are tales and legends made up by people who witness one or two occurrences, and then decide that it is an absolute, universal truth. Generalizations, such as the shop-aholic woman, the road-raging man and the doughnut-eating police officer, are a few, of many, of our society’s generalizations. Can we really disqualify a children’s book merely because the language appears silly and the pictures and content are fantastic? Adults cannot and should not discount children’s books as being ridiculous when there are a large amount of adult books that are fantastic and silly, even more so than children’s books.
Adults books in such categories as Science Fiction, Fantasy and, dare we say, Harlequin Romance novels. The absurdities, the changeability, the far-fetched notions that are found in children’s books also abound in numerous adult fiction books. In John R. Tunis’ article, What Is a Juvenile Book? , he quotes Pamela Travers. It is a very adept quote that fits my previous conclusions accurately. Travers once said, “For me, all books are for children. There is no such thing as a children’s book. There are books of many kinds and some of them children read. ” (Art. 1. 5, pg.4).
I love this quote because it is true and it dismisses so many ridiculous notions. Notions that tell children they are not smart or mature enough to read an ‘adult’ book; notions that tell adults that they are too mature and sophisticated to read children’s books and, lastly, notions that tell publishers and bookstore owners that it is acceptable to create a book category that excludes adults and minimizes children. Another applicable quote is one from John R. Townsend, who expounds on the idea that the categorization of books as children’s books is limiting.
He says, in his article An Elusive Border, “The existence of such children’s books (and, latterly, of young adult books) raises other and more difficult questions. Do these books miss critical notice, or fail to reach their proper audience, by being confined in a pen labelled children’s or young adult? “. Townsend’s quote implies that the label that we put on books confines them to a certain age group and that no one else may touch them or study them for other merits outside of their category. Far less children’s books are considered as scholarly masterpieces or being full of imagery and literary devices.
Yet, I like the question that Townsend raises because it is a very viable and real conundrum. Children and young adult books do miss critical study and appreciation because they are under the guise of ‘non-adult’ fiction. I think it should not be so and I am glad there are those who question the labels we put on books. Although there are many generalizations about children’s books, we cannot ignore the many ones placed upon children’s reading and the patterns surrounding it, such as the momentous occasion when a child first begins to read.