Thursday, November 3, 2011

Those happy golden years... and these

As I've said, I agree with quite a bit of the recent proclamation on the state of picture books. But it also got me thinking (as a good proclamation should). It's very easy to label the past as "the good old days," and indeed, children's literature (in general, not just in picture books) has had several identifiable "golden ages." Like 1865ish to 1910ish, when it first started to occur to the creators of books for children that those books could be for fun, not just for instruction. Like various points during the editorial career of Ursula Nordstrom (1940 to 1973), which encompasses everything from the lyrical but accessible Goodnight Moon to the subversion of Louise Fitzhugh and M.E. Kerr. (There's a lot more to be said about what those 30+ amazing years did for children's books, but that's a topic for several more posts. Here, a start.)

There are other times, too, that are worth remembering fondly and learning from, for a wide variety of reasons. Look at the eighties and early nineties, for one example. A lot of the work produced then might not be "golden" from a critical standpoint, but there's a lot to be said for how accessible the proliferation of (affordable, paperback) series made reading for kids. These were books that kids found through their friends, not their teachers or their parents; it's almost like there was a renewal of the realization a century earlier that fun could be a primary purpose of kids' books. That trend helped make me an eager reader, and I'm far from the only one.

Which brings me to now. In the past decade or so, the industry has given kids and teens all kinds of reasons to want to read, and though some of those reasons are more commercially than critically appealing, there are still plenty of places for critics to pin their stars. Genre lines are blurring between prose and graphica, between novel and picture book, between picture book and app, and I've heard more than a few customers make comments to the effect of, "I didn't know that was possible!"

In terms of finding and running with new ideas, and in terms of letting readers of varying interests and learning styles know that reading is for them, too... dare I say it? I think we're in a golden age.

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