If there is an argument to be made for encouraging children to read by any means necessary, then I am probably not the one to make it. Consider, please, books deriving from major motion pictures. What is it exactly those books are meant to accomplish, except, of course, Encourage Reading? Why would I choose to look at a photograph of Darth Vader if I can listen to James Earl Jones and that creepy respirator whenever I want with a monthly subscription to Netflix?
The traffic in pallid substitutes seems to me a self-defeating proposition at best, at worst a little smarmy and disingenuous. We all might do better – consumers and makers and foisters, yes, you – by remembering what it is that books, or good books anyway, do unequivocally well. Lucasfilms can, amazingly, send you hurtling through time warps, but all of their horses and all of their men still cannot assemble a physical landscape equal to artwork as diverse as Christopher Myers’ in Wings, or John Burningham’s in Cloudland, or Vladimir Radunsky’s in Where the Giant Sleeps, or Maira Kalman’s in Hey Willy, See the Pyramids! - all of it vital, familiar and fiercely original. These illustrations are the stuff of dreams, good, bad, mysterious - but impossible? If dreams - as we are interminably reminding our children - can sometimes come true, then why not supply them with the widest, most fanciful palate?
And words. Let’s give them words. To sing to, to puzzle with, to live by. To circle and remember the smallest of details in the grandest of stories - well, that is a gift, but also a responsibility. The Lorax – to my mind the Lawrence of Arabia of children’s picture books – takes about fourteen minutes to read, and ends with an admonition that somehow manages to clarify the difference between a bungled, regrettable history and the stuff we can actually change:
UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.