Monday 18 December 2006

New Yorker's 'Bah, humbug!' round-up of picture books

...why do we tell stories to our children? In my experience, mostly it is to get them to shut up.
A review so negative it manages sneery when it's trying to be complimentary

Ah, writers and children's book lovers, if you want to get really, really angry, read the New Yorker piece Goodnight Mush: The Year in Picture Books

Written by critic Elizabeth Kolbert, it describes the picture book as an "instrument of control" and then proceeds to demonstrate how some classic picture books — such as Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, Madeleine by Ludwig Bemelmans, Bedtime for Frances by Russell Hoban — pretend that children have power only to bring them down in the end.

The tension, or, if you prefer, bad faith implicit in this arrangement is itself one of the great themes of bedtime literature, and many of the tales now regarded as classics celebrate children as artists (and artists as children), only, in the end, to sell them both out.

Meanwhile, picture books for today's "post-spanking set"tend to do just the opposite — "that the old order be uprooted and the fool become the king".

After a humourless discussion of scatological PBs — Walter the Farting Dog Goes on a Cruise by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murrey, (illustrator Audrey Colman),Gee Whiz! It's All ABout Pee by Susan E. Goodman (illustrator Elwood H. Smith) and The Truth About Poop by Goodman and Smith again — she proceeds to describe unsavory details of the beloved author Margaret Wise Brown, whose bedtime book Goodnight Moon celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

This is a review so negative it manages sneery even when it's trying to be complimentary. As Alice Pope, editor of the Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market, commented in her blog:

Never have I read an article on children's books that sucked the joy out of them. Never have I read an article on children's books that made me want to cry.


  1. We writers really do put ourselves out there don't we. Got to have hard skin in this business I think!

  2. Yes it's very irritating but still, my guess is most kids would think this reviewer is talking drivel. They know, better than the reviewer does, who really has the power - and the future!
    Thanks so much for your wonderfully informative and entertaining blog!

  3. It's sad some people have to be so negative.

    However, saying that we can't just assume every picture book is good just because it's published. I've seen a few, which I've been amazed it's got past the first reader.


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