I love Zach Franzen’s illustrations and am an even bigger fan of the man. He marries a profound and far-reaching intellect with gentleness and humility. If one way to judge a man is how he treats children, then Zach (a new dad!) is one of the good ones. This post, which first appeared at Story Warren, is excellent. –S.D. “Sam” Smith
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Kids today are offered many invitations to be shallow. Everywhere they are bombarded with proclamations that reality is self-defined, appetites are sacred, and self-control is self-defacement.
If you examine the children’s books on the shelves of your local bookstore you’ll find that girls are afflicted with books like Teenage-ness: the Teenage years, Glitter Edition (Now with Sex!).
And boys are offered versions of Want Some Angst With Those Jokes? Gross-out Pranks From an Orphaned Underachiever Who Is Really Quite Special.
Those actual titles don’t exist … yet, but books like that judge their success on how closely they are able to repeat the appetites and solipsism of the youth market. Through the advocacy of self-regard, these books pluck only the low hanging fruit of ego. They promise to spiral the outside world in toward the reader. But the ability to spiral inward is limited, whereas the ability to spiral outward is unlimited.
One way to display a higher opinion of children than the popular fashion is to address them as members of the human family and not as a special class of self-worshiping mirror-gazers.
Older writers did this. There is no reason we can’t.
Consider this contemplative poem meant for a young audience by Robert Louis Stevenson.
The rain is falling all around,
It falls on field and tree,
It rains on the umbrellas here,
And on the ships at sea.
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I love how Stevenson ties a child to the romance of the sea by the common experience of rain.
The poem refuses to pander. Instead of organizing the world around the child, this poem uses rain as a universal binder and inserts the child into it. The rain falls on the field and tree of the country, the umbrellas of the town (where the child lives), and the ships at sea. The world is bigger than the child, and the child has a place in it.
The way to habituate a child to shallow thinking is to present a world that needs to bend itself to the child in order to obtain significance. However, some literature (much of it older) allows a child to see the grandeur of the world outside themselves and perceive a higher order in which they might have a place.
What are your favorite books/poems that treat children as people?