I had a lot of things I needed to do this evening, so naturally, I started making a list of all the books I would hypothetically buy for the starting library of any children I might one day have.
Which, side note, I have basically resigned myself to the fact that if I do ever have children, they will not be readers. I want it too much, it’s far too important to me. When I have fantasies about having children, they nearly all revolve around reading together. When I was a kid, I followed my poor mother in and out of every room in the house reading aloud at her FOR HOURS. I used to sit on the toilet while she showered and scream Calvin & Hobbes comic books at her — I would actually describe the panels, and if she did not laugh in an appropriate place, I would say “Was your head under the water? I’ll start over on this one.” And when I think about having children, I think about reading all the stuff I loved when I was a kid over again with them. I am so desperate for this to happen that I am 100% convinced that my children will be athletes and extroverts and builders, physical people in all respects. They will be not the least bit interested in books or storytelling or theater or sitting quietly and contemplating, or any of the verbal intangible stuff that I enjoy.
It’s ok. I’ve made my peace with the disappointment in advance.
But anyway, as I was making my book list, I noticed that The Diary of Anne Frank is on like every single children’s book list ever, and I would argue that this is not a children’s book! In fact, if you want to get picky about it, it’s not even really a book — it’s someone’s personal diary that I’m not entirely sure she would have wanted the whole world to read, but I suppose you could make a decent argument that the good that book has done outweighs any personal objections to its publication its author might have had. But regardless, it is most assuredly not a children’s book.
I often wonder why we are so anxious to foist upon young children recreational reading that we would never in a million years read as adults. When was the last time you curled up in bed of an evening with a glass of wine and an excruciating real life account of living through the Holocaust in continual terror and watching everyone you love be ripped away from you and slaughtered before finally being murdered in a camp yourself? I’m not even really mature enough for that shit now.
I remember this one book we had to read when I was a kid that involved this boy who’d gone swimming with his best friend and his best friend drowned and he could not save him. He was living with the guilt of his best friend having grabbed onto him as he went down, and he’d never told anyone he was there in the water with him when he died. Is this really something kids need to read about? I mean, I can’t recall that accidentally killing a friend was something I ran up against quite a lot as a child, but then, I wasn’t much of a joiner so perhaps I missed that stage.
Bullying, abuse, poverty, a loved one getting cancer — these are all things that a lot of kids do very sadly have to deal with on a daily basis, so I understand why there are children’s books about these things, even though they’re not exactly happy funtime subjects. But from the number of children’s books focused on it, you’d think that having a best friend who drowned was a universal human experience. I would venture to say it’s relatively uncommon!
I do understand, though, that it’s helpful to have whatever awful thing you’re experiencing reflected back at you through literature, especially when you’re a kid, because it makes you feel less alone. I never found mine. It would have been something along the lines of “Wanda Knows Something About Her Tends to Alienate People, But She Cannot Figure Out Precisely What.”
Not a very catchy title, I realize.
Anyway, what were your favorite children’s books, so I can add them to my list? It’s already in the hundreds, so I won’t share it, but besides the obvious, I was really into all the Zilpha Keatley Snyder novels. I wanted to be a part of the Stanley family. No one ever seems to know what I’m talking about when I mention these — did anyone else read them?