Children in Literature

Rivka Galchen’s piece on the “sometimes reciprocal hostility between writing and children” arrived in a LitHub alert earlier this month, raising fresh questions about the place of my chosen field of writing in the larger literary world.

If literature has always looked askance at children, perhaps reflecting the views of society at large, where does that leave literature for children? Back when I started writing for young readers, I’d get really annoyed by perfectly well-intentioned people who asked me when I thought I’d write a book for grown-ups. As if writing for kids were the equivalent of going to kindergarten, and if I wanted to grow up, hadn’t I better start, you know, writing for real people? Sadly, a quarter-century later, that question does not seem to have gone away.

 

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It’s possible to have a meaningful conversation between someone who’s 85 and someone who’s 3.

Maybe it’s just that those of us who write for the young are better able to remember that we were once children too and that childhood is not an alien space but a deeply human one.

Galchen writes:

But if I seem to be wandering into an appraisal of babies—so underrepresented!—as in need of their own subaltern studies then I have wandered too far.

Or not. Remember Perry Nodelman’s paper on the child as “other.”

It gives me some comfort to think that in literature for children, child characters may not have power but they do, so often, claim agency. They are rich and human, flawed and full, and in general a whole lot more than “catalysts of decay or despair.”

 

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