I had a bit of a “Field Trip” today, although I’m not quite sure its what you would call a visit to a location you frequent at least three times a week. I drove my five year old sister to the bookstore after lunch. I had no intention of opening my laptop or journal to write away for several hours on my manuscript as I usually do. No, today I vowed to give my time and attention solely to the next generation of readers in my family.
She knew exactly where to go when she saw the bright colors and cutout character images of the children’s section. The rest of the store appeared rather gray to her but not this area. I followed her with a sense of pride in my heart when I saw how excited she was to be amongst so many books. It didn’t take her more than a second to find a handful of paperbacks she claimed she wanted. She thrust them at me and hurriedly rounded the bookshelf to find others. It was then that I began to notice a trend among the books she selected. It was also the same time I noticed the common factor among the books gracing almost every shelf in the children’s section.
Every bit of literature around me had some relation to a major motion picture or television show. Gone were the Little Bear books, cast aside in some corner. Abandoned were the stories that had once sprang from the minds of writers like Jane Yolen and Maurice Sendak. Harold and the Purple Crayon was overlooked completely by the little ones as well as The Story of Ferdinand that had once been a family favorite. Children all around me held books with the faces of Nickelodeon and Disney characters. A whole series based on Barbie dolls and PBS puppets lined the length of a hallway. The entirety of the children’s section had been taken over by the media.
Its not to say that I’m unhappy with the fact children want to read these things. I’m glad they are reading tangible books at all. I will admit to feeling a bit sad though, that they are so engrossed and trained by popular culture that they no longer have any interest for books that have no name in the media. Not to mention the effect this has all had on traditional publishing. When competing against an already enormous fan base traditional writers are now being challenged more than ever to gain wider audiences in the children’s market.
Yes, as parents we must help our youngsters learn to read but we must also help expose them to the world of literary magic. How are we to help our children’s imaginations unfurl when they already have a fixed notion of what something should look like and act like because they see it on television.
In this age where children are born to iPads, 3D movies and a rapidly evolving digital culture we must remind ourselves to stay grounded. We must encourage them to read beyond what they see on Sunday morning cartoons, movies and video games. A child’s natural sense of imagination, magic and curiosity depends on it. Don’t help create a lazy mind, help create a curious one.
P.S. I came to a compromise with my little sister. I’d buy her My Little Pony for early readers if she also chose a book with characters she’d never seen or heard of. We both walked out of the store a little happier.
Books of Recommendation
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry G. Allard Jr. (One of my childhood favorites)
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling (Written prior to films)
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (Written in 1937, way prior to film)
Young Adult (Teen):
Wicked Lovely Series by Melissa Marr
City of Bones: The Mortal Instruments Series (Written prior to film release this Aug. 21st)
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Very funny)