Last semester I thought it would be fun to sign up for a class called, “Teaching Texts Across Borders”. The class was described to us as how to to teach children’s literature to various cultures. That, coupled with the fact that it was scheduled to meet on Tuesday afternoons, and thus giving me a perfect schedule of class on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and the rest of my week free made the class a no brainer. I thought I would be sitting on easy street and could focus on the other three classes (two of which I knew were going to suck balls).
Boy was I dumb. The first challenge with the class is that it was moved to Friday afternoons. I am not my best on Fridays, and in the afternoon, forget it! The class is scheduled for prime napping hours, and it seems more often than not, it snows just as the class is letting out and I have to walk home. The second aspect of the class that I misjudged was the type of material that would be covered in the class. I like studying the theory behind literature, and I love children’s literature, but what I am being asked to do in this class is not my idea of fun. Not only the class a lot of talking and tangents about children’s books, but I am expected to read, and keep a diary of all the children and young adult fiction that I read. The Hunger Games is a required reading, and so is surfing fandom sites and reading the reworkings of stories by uber fans (50 Shades of Grey much?) I was expecting to find books like the ones at home, Meg Cabot, J.K. Rowling, and the like, books that have simple plots with happy endings, ones that are predictable and lighthearted. I know that not all books written for children are like this, but the book we went over in class was a creepy take on Little Red Riding Hood, complete with parents who fight, and the possibility of divorce. The story was dark and depressing, and by the end of it, the reader has no idea if the mother is happy to see the father has returned, or if she is merely happy the son has made it home in one piece.
The book is aimed at 4-6 year olds.
The books in the Moray House library are just as good. I’ve read a couple of children’s books that I enjoyed, and were lighthearted, but so far the young adult fiction has been worse than most adult fiction I have read. The first was a story about a girl who had gone mad and the artist her father had hired to help her become “normal” again. The story was poorly written and never really gave a clear explanation on anything. Suddenly by the end of the story, the governess is really a sister, and the “crazy” sister is now a famous artist loved by all. The second book though, that is the good one. That one takes place in the future (although that is not made clear, I had to wikipedia that) at the outbreak of a mysterious third world war. There is no named enemy, and no reason given for the war. The important part of the story though is that a girl is sent to live with her cousins in England for a summer, and while there, this war breaks out. For awhile, the war does not affect the kids, and while they are enjoying a life without adults (their aunt/mom is killed trying to get across the border and back to her family) the American girl falls in love with her cousin….her first cousin. They begin a sexual relationship. No one thinks of their relationship as wrong, and no one tells them they should do otherwise. The war drives the boy crazy, and the story ends with the girl making it back to the farm to be with her cousins and put her life back together after the war. The boy is now a mute who cuts himself and may or may not talk to vegetables. The story ends with the girl picking up the relationship with her cousin and adjusting to the way he is now.
This books is marketed for 12 year olds. I don’t have a 12 year old, and I was reading “adult” novels at 12, but good grief. What kind of story is that? Underage sex with your first cousin? More importantly, how do I discuss this story in a class with Chinese girls who barely understand English, and would be horrified at the subject of this book.
On the upside, I think I found my final assignment topic: how absurd and effed up can children’s books be in the UK before someone thinks twice about letting kids read them?
This is going to be a long semester.