Thursday, October 21, 2010

"A one-year-old will cry twenty times a day."

The new documentary Library of the Early Mind and the panel discussion that followed its screening at Harvard's Askwith forum covered all sorts of ground. That's what happens when you sit a bunch of people down and say, "Talk to me about children's literature." But one idea I kept hearing was that books help children make sense of the world.
As adults or even as older children, we may turn to our old literary favorites for comfort and think they're reminding us of a happier time when we felt safe and cared-for. To some degree, they probably are. But as Lemony Snicket Daniel Handler points out in the film, there's a reason that one-year-olds cry so much. The world is big and doesn't make much sense.

But a book is small and can quickly become familiar. A, age 2, will point out anything she recognizes in an illustration, often with quickly mounting urgency if I don't immediately acknowledge that she's right. "Moon. Moon! MOOOOON!!"

"Yes, that's the moon," I'll say, and then everything's okay. The thing she thought was a moon is in fact a moon. She's on the right track in this figuring-out-the-world thing.

Methinks being a librarian of the early mind (and I mean "librarian" in a broad sense) is a powerful thing,

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