Interesting article last week (I think- the sedimentary record of incoming magazines is fallible) in the New Yorker on Rose Wilder Lane, daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder. She was a drunk, a divorcee, a rotten but prolific journalist, and a hardcore founding libertarian. She is thought by some scholars to have written all the Little House books, and she definitely helped shape the writing of the series.
I haven’t read the books since I was a little girl, but they remain very popular- and I was naively surprised to find out that Little House is a contentious title for its portrayal of Native Americans. I hadn’t given the books any serious thought since third grade.
The Hidden Adult by Perry Nodelman is a new book that attempts to tease apart the agenda and messages embedded in writing in English for children. Why do people write books for children? What kinds of things are children allowed/encouraged/forced to read about? Authors are part of their culture and they tend to reinforce the values of that culture, especially when they are writing for kids.
Children’s book authors HATE this idea. A lot of them have the most preposterous reasons why they write for kids and they seem to believe in some magical muse that comes and generates characters and story lines for children that are too pure for the kind of academic and psychological scrutiny Nodelman pursues. There are also plenty of “scholars” that engage in criticism of texts they have not read based on the presumed bias of the author, policing the shelves for what is appropriate for children. I imagine this goes on with adult literature as well.
I like finding out the foibles and motivations of authors- but after six and a half years I still have no idea what to tell parents when they ask me what is appropriate for their child of a certain age. I see these shelves of books seething with adult psychology, fictionalized biography to put James Frey to shame, hagiography, religion, hate, daddy and mommy issues, gender minefields, beautiful artwork, prose by committee and market forces and ask the child, “Well, what sort of things do you like to read about?”