Mount Rushmore – Children’s Author Editions
Hey! Something I know about! Which means I’ll probably get twice as many hate-comments. Don’t worry… I haven’t yet realized my dream of turning the “Fast and Furious” movies into a series of pop-up books so neither myself, Vin Diesel, or Paul Walker will have anything to do with this week’s mountain.
Theodor Geisel: If you’re wondering who the heck Theodor Geisel is, go punch yourself in the face. Done? Okay. Theodor Geisel — better known by his pseudonym of Dr. Seuss — is probably the only obvious lock for this mountain. I shouldn’t even need to explain this one. He’s the Babe Ruth of children’s authors.
J.K. Rowling: Possibly the most controversial choice I’m putting on my mountain. Rowling isn’t without her faults. I am actually a pretty big critic of hers. I don’t think she is a particularly great writer. Her fantasy language is predictable and derivative (The good guys are Griffindor, the bad guys are Slitherin, and the doofuses are Hufflepuff? Really?), she relies too heavily on deus ex machina (Why the fuck don’t they ever use the Time Turner again???), and she ignored major ethical issues in her universe (They have magical hospitals that only treat wizards but not muggles?). But those are largely adult issues. More importantly, she got an entire generation of children excited about reading. She spawned (or breathed life back into, at least) a genre of literature that has only been outpaced recently by Adolescent Vampire Fiction (Yes, there is a section for that in B&N now). She had a huge cultural impact. I think her books will be classics we look back on in the future.
Maurice Sendak: Some of this guy’s stuff is way out there. Much of it is only really posing as a children’s book. But Where The Wild Things Are was such a monumental piece of literature that his inclusion is a must. Sendak’s Max was the first child character to really show a full range of emotions. He gets angry. He disobeys. He’s incredulous when called out for his behavior. And he retreats into a fantasy land where he can further indulge his wild side. He is the wild thing. We all have a wild thing inside us. And children in his target audience are struggling to make sense of how to manage those urges. Sendak rejected the Victorian ideal of what children should be and saw them for what they are: utterly human. His book changed how future writers crafted their characters.
Ezra Jack Keats: I batted around three names for this final spot: Robert Munsch, Mo Willems, and Keats. Children would probably rank Willems and Munsch ahead of Mr. Keats. And I’m hard pressed to argue with them when it comes to assessing their entertainment value: Willems and Munsch can get children and adults laughing until it hurts. But there is something uniquely powerful about Keats capturing some of the seemingly more mundane aspects of a child’s life and imbuing them with magic. Munsch and Willems get what make children laugh; Keats gets what makes children tick. There is also something to be said for his ability to fill his books primarily with children of color living in urban environments without making either of those the focus of the story. That said, if you have young children (aged four to seven, I’d say), you can’t go wrong with a box set of either Munsch’s or Willem’s books.
What ya got?