My mother was a voracious reader, and her example instilled in me a passion for books and reading. Our city library was a twenty-minute car ride away. By the time I was five, I would devour the maximum number of age-appropriate books allowed by my library card on the car journey home, and beg to go right back for more. My mother scoured second-hand book stalls and stores to keep me supplied, yet my thirst remained insatiable. Eventually I started reading her books also. By the time I was nine, and beginning with A Tale of Two Cities, I was mainlining the works of Charles Dickens.
Much is written about the value of children’s literature. To summarize, it
This value cannot be underestimated. However, we impose an artificial limit on the value of children’s literature, when we relegate it to little more than its usefulness to what a child could become: to an ideal of what the child will one day be. This speaks to both how we view children’s literature and also childhood itself.
Surely the child’s own value is inherent in who he is now – in his present personhood – not only in what he may become. Similarly, children’s literature carries intrinsic literary value for what it is in itself – not merely for how it may help the child develop.
Good literature has a transforming effect on all of us, whether subtle or dramatic, no matter our age or stage of development. But whether or not we are impacted by it in this way, does not detract from the innate value of the literature itself: the artistry and skill of its use of language and illustration; its universal themes; its truth and beauty; the imaginative experience it provides; the responses of delight and wonder it evokes; what it reveals about our lives and the world around us.
It is time we took children’s literature as seriously as it deserves, as reflected in the media space allocated to the review of children’s books; in our regard for and engagement with children’s book writers and publishers; in the attention given to children’s writing and literature in writing programs and literature courses.
Philip Pullman, children’s author and Oxford academic, famously stated, “There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book.”
Indeed, literary and academic heavyweights like C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, and the late Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, to name a few, all wrote for children
Children’s literature occupies a legitimate and valuable space in the field of literature, and as such deserves our time, attention, and serious consideration.