The unmentionables

Reading “Small Things” and discussing it with colleagues and friends, combined with the Sinna Man video has set me off on a train of thought of what the “unmentionables” in children’s literature – or more specific, picture books are. Yes, some Europeans are doing some things, but it doesn’t yet seem to be in the mainstream BANA literature.

Is it merely a question of time? Certainly since I was a teenager, middle school and YA literature has taken leaps into sexuality, gender issues, rape, abuse, addiction etc. But what makes us think that there is this sudden flick of a switch in the teen years? Why do we think younger children are so innocent or naive or not ready?  Is it psychologically sound to deny them this glimpse into the expression of these forms of reality, or is it a form of misguided protection?

As a teacher librarian I see young children sitting masturbating while listening to stories. Teachers come to me and ask me about books about it, or at least ones that help children set boundaries, or stop it in public. Parents have varying views from horror and denial to acceptance and insistence on normality and ‘leave them be’.  I’ve tried googling it, but that may brand me as a paedophile on the look out for smutty images… what I want is the book form of the sex-ed my kids received in Grade 1, which was comparing your body to your home and explaining how you had levels of who  you let into various areas of your home (or in the front door at all), and so to it was with your body. Setting boundaries. Knowing what was public and private.  In thought word and deed.  Anyone know of anything?

Death and dying is sensitively dealt with an a couple of books – literally a handful, most recentl300961y in Ghosts (really for middle school but it’s very popular with my elementary age students from about 8 years old), childhood anxiety and depression? Not many that I’m aware of besides “Small things” and Michael Rosen’s Sad Book.

The books on learning difficulties like ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia etc. are often (badly) written and illustrated and self-published by interest groups or desperate parents, and it shows.  Step up to plate authors!

Similarly abuse. There are enough books for middle school and YA, but many children grow up in families where there is physical, verbal or emotional abuse. That becomes their normal and you see it in the way they behave to others out of the home. There is substance abuse and addiction. How about bullying? Have the picture books you’ve read ever really helped portray the agony with out a flippant resolution? The Invisible Boy is one of the lovely books in this respect. But often the protagonists have some hidden talent … what if they don’t? What if they really are fat or ugly, or dress funny, or poor, or can’t keep up in class?

Are these the unmentionables? What would you add? I know these are probably not going to be best sellers, run away hits. But they deserve the light of day. A good light of day by excellent authors and illustrators. Who children will read because they trust and believe in those people to be their voice and their eyes and ears.

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