You may not have or even teach a child but you were one and whether it was to a parent, friend or teacher you probably used to say:
"When I grow up I'm gonna be a _____!"
For me, the "blank" was everything from spy to pilot to writer! (Of course no kid's gonna say "struggling actor/painter/front desk receptionist"... but uh, I'm workin' on it.) When I thought of being a writer back then, what I had in mind was based on what I was reading at the time and that, of course, meant Children's Literature. Kid's are known for being innocent and pure but a child's mind is not all love and light. Just like the "big people" we become, a kid's mind has its dark corners too and even as a little girl, I got my thrills from poking around in the dark.
I've never taken a course on Children's Literature; however, due to the fact that both of my parents teach elementary school I've read my fair share of children's books. The books we read as kids can be anything from classic fairy tales to instructional stories and everything in between. There are talking animals, great adventures, morals and even warnings. I don't know about all kids but I was often drawn to the darker stories. Rather than the mouse-ballerina-type stuff I was into stories with an element of danger.
Looking back on some of my old favorites I recognize different interpretations and levels of meaning. Some are seemingly inappropriate for a young mind but how much was I really absorbing back then? We learn to analyze literature and poetry and we read into everything more but we don't often revisit the books we read before we thought critically. When it comes to Children's Literature how much do the darker themed stories affect the subconscious? It'd be interesting to take a class on this in relationship to early childhood development studies.
I recently stumbled upon this NY Times Sunday Book Review about some new children's books that seem edgier than most, it's an interesting article... Below is a list of a few of my childhood favorites and if you've ever studied Children's Literature or just have an opinion about any of this I'd love to hear what you think!
The Night Flight by Joanne Ryder
This little girl escapes in the night by flying out her window and embarks on an adventure in the park that puts her on the back of a wild lion statue come-to-life. The image of the roaring lion at a roaring waterfall makes me wonder if she ended up with a little more than she'd set out for.
Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young
The illustrations are haunting and the tale of caution is a familiar one involving a big bad, you know.
Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak
Goblins kidnap Ida's sibling and replace it with a changeling. Creepy? Yeah... but beautiful illustrations and the simple, poetic writing leaves you wondering about more than just why these kids were left alone.
Heckedy Peg by Audrey Wood
Don't talk to strangers... especially if they want to turn you into food and eat you! Once again it's the illustrations that make this one so stunning, even now.