In the realm of children’s illustrated books, there is a tendency to pander to the more unsophisticated tastes of the buyer-usually a mother or grandmother -whose concession to the banality of cute bunnies and ducklings they are certain will delight what is generally assumed as the child’s insatiable appetite for huggable, cute characters presented with an unhealthful abundance of sugar, made all the more enticing if that same book contains the most cozy of sentimental messages: usually confined to such optimistic but cloying concepts as: friends are good, happy is good or hugs are good. (That more children are not mauled every year by the continuing literary misconception of the safety of approaching and giving a warm embrace to wandering socially affable bears is a mystery for a separate column.) When a children’s book finds its very conception allowing for a latent passivity of adventurous emotional response, it is a work that should merit little enthusiasm. While positive messages are nothing to sneer at, if a book begins with and sustains a tone throughout of helium-breathed lightness, what is the ultimate purpose of the book? Wherein lies the value of lessons learned when all has been sweetness and light from page one? Where exactly are the challenges to the child’s imagination? This may explain why the vast majority of the most enduring fairy tales have a far more potent combination of mystery, dread, good and evil than seemingly acceptable in the contemporary children’s book filling the pages of any publisher’s catalog. The average children’s illustrated book immerses the child in the protective cloak of simplistic concepts comforting to the adult but hardly nourishing nor stimulating the child’s mind to stretch in meaningful directions. Good children’s illustrated books must entice the full arsenal of the reader’s imagination, with all of the dark corners and innumerable perils that particular imperative implies.
Illustrated children’s books that are considered safe to the adult consumer’s eye, meaning they contain no elements that will possibly upset, disturb, confuse, anger, frustrate, sadden or irritate the child- an intellectually sanitizing effect that ensures the development of a personality empathetic only toward their own pleasures -are symptomatic of the vast majority of works proffered by a myopic publishing industry interested in directing children’s (through adults) attention to the forced homogenization of a child’s healthy fantasy life, constructed of a diet based upon both anthropomorphized cuteness and later books heavily invested in mythologically steeped genres, filled with magic, dragons and wizards but scant reality-based storytelling which might enrich a child at a formative period of learned socialization. An enriched fantasy life, in a child, is not the same as in an adult, for the the concept of the fantastic is not limited (as it is in the adult mind) to the phantasmagorical, but also finds rich nurturing grounding in everyday experience including the observed behavior of adults which is an exotic world of untold wonders fueling the adventurous imagination of the young.
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