No Cream Puffs: Karen Day
Growing Bookworms Newsletter: July 22, 2008

Soapbox: Communicating the Wonder of Modern Children's Literature

Colleen Mondor has suggested that this week be dedicated by the litblogosphere to "posting loud and long about those things that have been driving them crazy in the publishing world." A number of people chimed in yesterday on various topics, and Colleen has a round-up of excerpts here. (Speaking of Colleen, did you see that she got Jules, Eisha, and me mentioned on GalleyCat?)

Just to get the ball rolling for the soapbox discussions, Colleen listed a variety of issues that have percolating. The one that is currently getting under my skin (also discussed briefly in yesterday's Sunday Visits post) concerns the lack of broader knowledge about modern-day children's and young adult literature and the blogs that focus on that literature. This post stems partly from a post that Carlie Webber (Librarilly Blonde) recently linked to on the parenting blog Babble, and partly from my recent experience attending the BlogHer conference in San Francisco.

The blog entry that Carlie cited is Where Oh Where is Superfudge by Rachel Shukert. And the gist of Shukert's post is that "Kids' books aren't what they used to be". She waxes nostalgic for several thirty-year-old books about "average kids with real-world problems" and suggests that "the Young Adult section has become ... downright aristocratic." She seems particularly bothered by the amount of press that Gossip Girl has received in the mainstream media, and the message sent by the Gossip Girl books and other similar titles. She laments the lionization of privilege, and says that "in the New Children's Literature it's the hapless middle-classes — the normal kids — who ruin the fun, through either graceless social-climbing or trenchantly decrying the excess and shallowness that make being wealthy so delicious, so desirable, so sympathetic." Her proposed solution is to "By all means, give them (kids) Gossip Girl, but rescue all those Carter-era stories of latchkey kids and public school and Native American girls abandoned on islands off the coast of California as well. For the littler ones, dust off Free To Be You and Me."

Seriously? The best solution she can come up with to counteract the messages in Gossip Girl is to go back to 30-year-old literature? I have nothing against offering up the occasional classic to today's kids (if they enjoy it), and I am certainly in favor of providing kids with a diversity of literature about people of all races and classes. But ... hello! There are hundreds of current books that fit the latter description in bookstores and libraries today.

Just ask any children's librarian or independent bookseller for suggestions. They will offer you books like the Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker (illustrated chapter books aimed at early elementary school kids). Clementine lives in an apartment in Boston, where her father is the building super. She sees her parents worrying about paying the bills. When she wants to buy her mother a present, she has to work and save and borrow to come up with the money. The books aren't about the fact that her family is working class - they are about her, and that happens to be her background. It's just the kind of thing that Rachel Shukert seems to be looking for, and anyone in the Kidlitosphere could have told her about Clementine in a heartbeat. (See also Liz B's post on this subject at Tea Cozy, in which she asks readers to help compile a "List of YA/middle grade books, written in the past few years, that do not have Rich Kids as the main character".)

I don't mean to criticize Rachel Shukert. I think she's trying to do something good. She sees all of the books in the bookstore and on the NY Times bestseller lists that feature unattainable wealth, and she wants something more realistic for kids. The thing that frustrates me - that keeps me up at night -is that people like Shukert are steering their children towards older books (however lovely those books are) because they don't know about what's available today. While at the same time the children's book blogging community is filled with people writing in-depth, thoughtful reviews of current titles, and jumping up and down to help parents find these titles for their kids. There's a disconnect here that simply MUST be addressed.

This past Saturday I attended one day of the BlogHer Conference in San Francisco. It was a lot of fun - you get a great energy going when you have 1000 women in one place who are all passionate about blogging. I met a few nice people, with whom I will be be following up, and some of those people were interested in the idea that I blog about children's books. But I have to admit that overall I felt marginalized at BlogHer. There seemed to be forums for mommy bloggers (by far the biggest sub-group), craft bloggers, personal bloggers (people who share their thoughts and/or details about their lives), and tech bloggers. But I certainly didn't meet any other book review bloggers (children or adult), and I didn't find a whole lot in the sessions that spoke directly to the type of blogging that I do. (Anne-Marie Nichols was there, but by the time I learned of this, it was too late to try to meet her, and too big a conference to find her at random). It was a far, far cry from the Chicago KidLit conference, and even from ALA (although ALA is a much bigger conference). The place I was most comfortable, people-wise, was the PBS table in the exhibit hall.

I'm not blaming the BlogHer organizers for my ... disconnection with the larger conference. I think that they do a great job of organizing. I was probably not there long enough to really get comfortable (I was unable to stay for the evening social event), and I didn't try hard enough to meet people. I also think that if I want the Kidlitosphere to be part of the larger blogging discussion, then perhaps next year I need to get some people together for a panel (or someone does). Because here again, similar to the situation with the Babble post, we have a whole bunch of people who blog, many of whom are passionate about how they are raising their kids, and as far as I can tell, they have only the vaguest notion that children's book blogs exist. And that's a shame. Because we do have some amazing resources here in the Kidlitosphere.

I don't have the answers, in terms of making the Kidlitosphere more broadly known. I think that the general issue is that doing that is going to require time, and many of us are already spending all the time we can on our blogs. We're hardly looking to take time away from the blogs themselves, to reach out to other people, people who don't seem that interested anyway.

I feel like I have this magical room full of free stuff, wonderful stuff that gets automatically replenished every day. And people are walking by outside of my room, people who would love this stuff if they knew about it. But they don't happen to look inside, and I don't have time to stand by the window to ask them to come in.

What do you all think?

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.