Every time I’m in the bookstore I look through children’s picture books. I try to compare them with books I would have enjoyed as a kid. The books that receive popular acclaim are clever and well designed and perhaps funnier than books used to be. However, I feel like the books even ten years ago had more atmosphere than the ones that are popular today. Is this the case? My favorite book to leaf through as a kid was the beautifully illustrated adaptation of Pilgrim’s Progress, A Dangerous Journey. At any rate, it may be ill-advised or an affront to the collective wisdom of children’s literature, but I wanted to do a picture book for my younger self, who is a great deal like my present self. Here’s a sneak peak.
I found this charming poem in a 1950s poetry compilation for children. I did this drawing to accompany it.
Last week my wife purchased three boxes of books at an auction. In the boxes were four of a five volume set of children’s literature called The Children’s Hour. It occurs to me that children were treated with greater respect back then than in much of the literature meant for them today. Authors in the 1950s tried to “connect” with the reader as much as authors today, but the effort has an entirely different attitude. Whereas the common ground today amongst author and child is immaturity, the authors of yesterday found maturity to be the common ground. The above poem describes a very simple and profound moment in a way that doesn’t look down on children. It assumes that they are human beings with a cache of relate-able profound experiences. It doesn’t assume that they need jokes about yellow snow or exposed underpants or romanticized adolescent sex to capture their attention. To me the subtext is, “I am a human being and I had this sharply realized experience. Maybe you would enjoy hearing it since you too are a human being.”
It is said that folks in the Dark Ages looked at the ruins of the Roman Empire and had no idea how such things were constructed. While it isn’t fair to say that we are in the Dark Ages of children’s literature, it may be fair to say its Golden Age was the 1950s.
This year’s Christmas Postcard owes much to my wife. During the latter half of November we watched numerous (it felt like numerous) romantic comedies. All the “follow your heart,” “believe in the power of your dreams,” “thinking is bad” moralism engulfed me, and I felt the need to combat the growing pressure of 90′s romantic comedies lest I should implode. In order to press against the crushing embrace of women’s fantasy, I watched episodes of Surviving the Cut and Special Ops. I actually completed this card while re-listening to Jack Coughlin’s excellent sniper memoir Shooter. Not surprisingly, Santa ended up with a knife in his teeth.