While I am basically skeptical about the power of books (or movies or any kind of art) to rejigger children’s moral compasses by offering them better, nobler role models than the ones they can find in real life, at least it seems the responsibility of literature to represent a world that is any way traceable to the ones we are inhabiting, so that we can even begin to imagine ourselves in their alternative circumstances, and maybe wonder how we’d fare.
As such, I am consistently disappointed with the ninety-or-so percent of picture books I open which seem to hold themselves accountable for about ten percent of reality. I realize there’s a lot of wickedness out there, and slippery temptation, and moral conundrums, still just reading Hubert the Pudge: A Vegetarian Tale doesn’t mean you’ll end up poleaxed by its worldview. Really, people, the kids are all right. Sensitive maybe, but not stupid. The books below right are not all seamlessly executed, some are even a little awkward and amateur-looking, and you would stand a better chance of tracking a unicorn through any of your major retailers, but they do at least begin to frankly shed some light in a couple of little corners we might have missed while we were Celebrating Our Differences. I have spent, I realize, oceans of words, a little money, and probably not so many minutes of your time, lamenting this kind of cheerfulness, and invite anyone to tell me to quit, either that or a couple of suggestions about the books you would like to see made.
For example: I’d hope to find more than one or two stories that are even marginally interested in whatever it is that keeps working parents so mysteriously busy all day – whether that is canning sardines or bundling mortgages – for once where the children are not the rationalizations. And if we’re going to insist on making them the stars, why not put the children in charge of a lemonade stand, a delivery route, indeed any little fraction of an economy that is all the fuss on TV? Or a kid farming yams instead of the regularly scheduled flowers? What we’d conceivably give up in eye-catching cover art and odes to the creative spirit, we might just replace with real drama: rainstorms, varmints, poachers, blight; there’s plenty of good old fashioned adventure in just trying to scrape by. Not to sound joyless, still what could be crueler than never seeing the truth till it is on top of you?