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May 11th, 2010

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01:14 am - Alienation From the Culture of Children
As an only child of two only children who frequently moved around from when I was born until I was 5 (due to my father being in the military), I had little contact with other children until I started school. As a result, I was an exceptionally bookish and solitary child. I largely attributed these factors in my growing up to why I ended up as I did, but after reading my friend moominmuppet's recent post about children's and YA books, helped me realize that there's another way in which I was isolated from most other children – the books I read.

I started reading shortly before I was 5 (I remember my father reading Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to me shortly before my 5th birthday, and that I picked it up and read it after he stopped reading to me (and I kept this secret from my parents for a while because I believed (not incorrectly) that my parents would cease reading to me once I could read on my own). Until I was 7, I mostly read ordinary children's literature with a bias towards SF & fantasy, but shortly after that, I largely ceased reading anything other than SF & the sorts of fantasy written by SF authors. I have read the works of authors like Lewis Carroll, E. Nesbit, Kenneth Grahame as an adult, but I never read them as a child, just like I also avoided most other of the more common children's books by authors that I have never read, like Astrid Lindgren, Tove Jansson, or later books like My Side of the Mountain and suchlike. Instead, I was reading a mixture of YA novels and older SF novels by the likes of Arthur Clarke, Leigh Brackett, Robert Heinlein, Andre Norton, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Robert Silverberg, Keith Laumer, Alan Nourse, James Blish, Hal Clement, and Isaac Asimov (I loved his Lucky Starr series when I was 8 or 9). On rare occasions, I read standard kid-lit like Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time, but not all that often. I remember reading Frank Herbert's Dune when I was 10, and reading Samuel Delany's Babel 17 when I was 11 or 12 (which was very confusing and not particularly recommended).

In short, there's a whole range of children's & young adult literature that I was either never exposed to, or only read as an adult. Anthropologists regularly talk about children's culture as being somewhat distinct from adult culture in many urban societies, and it is clear to me that to whatever extent there was a children's culture in the various places I grew up, I was in no way part of it – not even in the books that I read. I wonder how much of this ties into both my being vehemently childfree and being exceedingly uncomfortable around young children.

On a vaguely related note, much of my lack of exposure to recent YA literature was also true in school. I was (at least from my PoV) exceptionally fortunate to avoid most of the standard YA literature schools often require children to read and instead got a smattering of 19th century classics (including being assigned to read the Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage three times - in 6th grade, in junior high, and in high school, and Upton Sinclair's The Jungle twice, as well as some unfortunately nonsense like far too many Hemingway books in High School. However, I was thankfully saved from the great mass of stories & novels of dying pets, dying grandparents, crushed hopes & suchlike that children and young teens are often subjected to – I have yet to figure out if such stories are assigned because the people assigning them honestly think depressing junk like that is in some way "morally uplifting", or simply in revenge for having been assigned these same books as children and young teens. Instead, I got Shakespeare, a few Greek tragedies, a translation of Beowulf, and in High School, more Shakespeare, the Canterbury Tales, Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens and Edith Wharton – some were fun, others were quite dull, but at least none were purposefully cruel.
Current Mood: tiredtired

(6 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:May 11th, 2010 08:22 am (UTC)
I highly recommend Tove Jansson's "The Summer Book", which is not a children's novel, although the main character is a child.
[User Picture]
Date:May 11th, 2010 09:52 am (UTC)
Sixth grade novels - gag. Bridge to Terabithia was good until the ending, where the girl dies and the boy grieves Elizabeth Kubler-Ross style - and gets over it two days later?! Even at 11, I knew that was very unrealistic. I also read Tuck Everlasting, which ended with the heroine passing up a chance to live forever and dying at a ripe old age. I thought the girl was stupid to not wait until adulthood, find the family again, and drink the magic spring then (which is what I would have done!)

Many children's novels seem to be little more than indoctrination tomes to teach children to be reconciled to the status quo.

Luckily, I got much better stuff to read later, especially in AP English. I got to do reports on everything from Steven King to the Canterbury Tales. I love horror, so I didn't mind King in the slightest!
[User Picture]
Date:May 11th, 2010 10:14 am (UTC)
Many children's novels seem to be little more than indoctrination tomes to teach children to be reconciled to the status quo.

I completely agree. I suspect that these are often taught in schools for exactly this reason.
[User Picture]
Date:May 12th, 2010 02:41 am (UTC)
Many children's novels seem to be little more than indoctrination tomes to teach children to be reconciled to the status quo.

It seems like there's a dramatic split on this; most of what I loved were stories of characters who were well outside the norm, and succeeded because of that (Pippi Longstocking being one of my favorite examples). However, that tends to be less common in regular YA fiction than SF/F YA fiction, I think, and I was never very interested in the non-SF/F, so I don't have a lot of perspective on it.
[User Picture]
Date:May 11th, 2010 01:19 pm (UTC)
I wonder how often this happens with only children, since I certainly missed almost all children's literature as well. I started reading on Dr. Seuss, an abridged Catholic catechism, and the National Enquirer, and went straight to young adult books. Like your parents, mine stopped reading to me when they discovered I could read. I suspect I got more strokes for reading more advanced books, and my mother didn't have a problem with me essentially skipping the children's section of the library because, I think, on some level she wanted another family member who read as much as she did, and who also read mysteries (which were most of the available YA at my library).

akycha has spent a goodly amount of time introducing me to the children's literature that she has loved, reading to me and otherwise giving me a really enjoyable experience of it. Some of it, I'm sorry I missed, and some of it, I think may be better experienced as an adult.
[User Picture]
Date:May 11th, 2010 03:06 pm (UTC)
You may enjoy some of them as an adult. I grew up reading a mixture of adult and children's lit, and even now, returning to that stuff, plenty of it holds strong. I think part of the reason I'm interested in writing YA lit is because it's an excuse for writers to do something different than the contemporary mainstream-- even now I'd rather read about a bildingsroman than modern malaise or an affair. (Of course, I'd rather read a good book about an affair than a bad bildingsroman, but in the abstract...)

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