The best of times, the worst of times

After reading the Zipes (2009) chapter two quotations sprang to mind:

  • “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” (Oscar Wilde) and
  • “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” (Evelyn Beatrice Hall)

The former quote with reference to the idea that children’s’ “literature” is being replaced with an inferior commercialised foundling and the latter with the idea that mass market popular children’s fiction should be sneered at and dismissed as inferior.

 

I don’t think this can or should be answered simplistically.  Thinking back to my own childhood their was one “canon” of literature and it was largely British and did not at all relate to my reality of growing up in South Africa where the seasons were different, there was no snow at Christmas and most children were not exiled to boarding school.  All children marched in literary goose-step either accessing the “classics” or not reading at all, unless it was to read comics that were sneakily and furtively peeked at and condemned by so called “educated” adults.

 

Now I like to think that there is a book for every child, and also a debate about whether there should be a book for every child or whether there are universal themes that surpass the necessity to differentiate to this extent. And I think it is as important an argument as the one that Zipes (2009) is making about the commercialisation of children’s literature – in fact they probably are intertwined – diverse voices are presumed not to have a buying audience therefore don’t get published and therefore are presumed not to have a market ad infinitum.

 

The start was the facebook link of Edith Campbell to a Huffington Post article (Nichols, 2015) and the response from Meg Rosoff  (Flood, 2015) to which Edith Campbell wrote a longer blog post (Campbell, 2015).

 

I think both of them have valid points – the universality of literature vs. diversity and immediacy.

 

I must also admit that I’m getting increasingly annoyed by white middle class authors such as Deborah Ellis and Gloria Whelan. Rosoff escapes my annoyance as she writes unabashedly about her own reality. Although I rationally know that if they’d not written their books perhaps the stories would never have been written, it really annoys me that they have carte blanche and the publishing opportunities to tell the stories of other peoples and cultures as white middle class women.  Why is it that this is possible? I find it so presumptuous – both on the author’s part that they think they can depict the inner lives and thoughts of these girls and women – sometimes without even having travelled to the country or even had a conversation with their “subjects” and on the publishers – what makes them think that in a nation of over 1 billion people (India, the place that Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan is set) there is no other writer who could tell it better?  Here is an excellent review of someone else who had similar thoughts to me (‘Kelly’s review of Homeless Bird’, 2015).

 

To throw the gauntlet – what is actually worse? Unashamedly commercial series such Geronimo Stilton or the Rainbow Fairies or the more insidious books such as Homeless Bird or The Breadwinner – that win prizes such as the National Book Award resulting in frequent use in classrooms and the appearance on booklists of “must haves” to meet curriculum and diversity goals (‘Kelly’s review of Homeless Bird’, 2015)?

 

I know that Deborah Ellis does a significant amount of work in championing the rights of women in Afganistan – and that the profits of the sale of her books go to fund her work (Ellis, n.d.).   But still I wonder – shouldn’t these authors be working with people to write their own stories and see them come to be published?

 

Another area I’m particularly interested in right now is the “legitimisation” of graphic novels. Personally I am not a fan of them, but when I see how they are devoured by students and how they are a “gateway drug” for some of my reluctant readers, I just keep on buying them and pushing them.  There are some great resources for the use and promotion of graphic novels for all ages.

My current dilemma is which direction to take for my first assignment? Diversity and multi-culturalism or graphic novels. Will have to have a think and research around and about that.

References:

Alverson, B. (2014, September 8). Teaching With Graphic Novels [Journal]. Retrieved 26 November 2015, from http://www.slj.com/2014/09/feature-articles/the-graphic-advantage-teaching-with-graphic-novels/#_

Campbell, E. (2015, October 11). SundayMorningReads [Web Log]. Retrieved 26 November 2015, from https://campbele.wordpress.com/2015/10/11/sundaymorningreads-107/

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. (2015). Using graphic novels in education. Retrieved 26 November 2015, from http://cbldf.org/librarian-tools/using-graphic-novels-in-education/

Ellis, D. (n.d.). Get Involved. Retrieved 26 November 2015, from http://deborahellis.com/get-involved/

Flood, A. (2015, October 13). Meg Rosoff sparks diversity row over books for marginalised children [Newspaper]. Retrieved 26 November 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/oct/13/meg-rosoff-diversity-row-books-marginalised-children-edith-campbell-large-fears

Kelly’s review of Homeless Bird. (2015, March 7). [SocialReading]. Retrieved 26 November 2015, from https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/362348600?book_show_action=true&from_review_page=1

Nichols, J. (2015, October 5). This book Is creating a space for queer black boys In children’s literature [Newspaper]. Retrieved 26 November 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/large-fears-childrens-book_560ea3b3e4b0dd85030bae51?utm_hp_ref=gay-voices

Scholastic. (2015). A guide to using graphic novels with children and teens. Retrieved 26 November 2015, from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/lesson-plan/guide-using-graphic-novels-children-and-teens

Slate, B. (2010). You can do a graphic novel – Teacher’s guide. Retrieved from http://www.penguin.com/static/pdf/teachersguides/you_can_do_a_graphic_novel_TG.pdf

Zipes, J. (2009). Misreading children and the fate of the book. In Relentless progress: the reconfiguration of children’s literature, fairy tales, and storytelling (pp. 27–44). New York: Routledge.

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