I have no opinion about KinderGuides, which publishes picture books based on works of classic literature designed for 6-10 year-olds. So far, they’ve got “On the Road,” “The Old Man and the Sea” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Their version of Kerouac classic does not mention drinking, drug taking, casual sex, unacknowledged homoerotic thoughts, or unsafe driving.
It is, apparently, like an adventure story, with some talky guys involved in G-rated hijinks. I haven’t read it, so (as I say) I have no opinion about it. As to whether classic novels should be repurposed as kid’s books — well, if I came out against it, I would also have to oppose movie versions of books, television mini-series based on books, satire and pastiche, interpretive dance and murals, and so forth. And I don’t oppose those things, so I cannot oppose kiddie books based on adult favorites.
Apparently, the issue of whether Holly Golightly was a prostitute (and she was, of course) is not brought up in little people’s version of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” so apparently she’s just a high-spirited girl with an independent income. Who…well, it’s hard to see how a version of the story without the sexual tension would interest anyone, much less a seven-year-old girl. But what do I know? If I knew how to write successful children’s books, I’d be living on Maui, importing celebrities for raucous games of strip poker, and making personal appearances with stuffed toys bearing the likeness of Maybe Henry, the hero of my ghost/adventure series The Maybe Gang.
“The Maybe Gang Meets The Headless Horseman” has been translated into 13 languages. But I digress.
Nor do I have an opinion about Cozy Classics (I am not making this up), the book series that reduces classics to just 12 words. (Real example, for “War and Peace”: “Soldier friends run dance good-bye hug horse boom! hurt sleep snow love”). This seems more like a conceptual art book for adults rather than a real kid’s series, but apparently many parents are buying them and leaving them around the playroom for their offspring to find.
Still, not everyone was happy. One Amazon reviewer described the Cozy take on “Jane Eyre” as “weird, dark and not the most appropriate for kids who are reading board books.”
Well, (a) it’s a book in which a madwoman locked in the attic is a central plot point, so what were you expecting? and, (b) who says kids don’t like dark books? Some parents seem to have forgotten what it was like to be a child. Sure, there are innocent childhood delights, and wonder at unexpected things that adults are too jaded to appreciate, but there’s also fear, lots and lots of fear, and many mysterious threatening things, some of which can be put down to wind during a rain storm, and some of which can be put down to abusive drunk dangerous parents.
We don’t live in a totally sunny world, and our kids live in the same world we live in. Nothing can protect them from darkness and weirdness, certainly not dark weird people like us. The Grimms were right: Children need stories that tell them they are not crazy, that homicidal wolves and wicked stepmothers are indeed part of the landscape, whatever Sesame Street says.
What did I love most when I was 7 or 9? Edgar Allen Poe stories, for one — “The Pit and the Pendulum” I found particularly enthralling, and when I realized what was going on in “A Cask of Amontillado,” I was genuinely thrilled. Plus lots of gore and soupçons of sex (sex!) in science fiction and murder mysteries; hints about dark secrets as yet unexplored. My whole life was sort of a murder mystery; I kept trying to figure out what happened to my dad.
My, that turned weird all of a sudden. Proving my point.
Lemony Snicket understands that. J.K. Rowling understands that. What do people think is going on in Harry Potter, anyway? A very evil entity kills Harry’s parents, and he spends seven books seeking bloody revenge. Plus, there’s Stephen King. He writes books that young people read, whether they are appropriate or not.
(My experience: Calling something “inappropriate” is a sure-fire marketing tool. Big cover blurb for “Flesh Eating Zombies of the Apocalypse” goes like this: “It’s inappropriate! — Your parents.”)
May I make a serious point? I think parents are way too fretful about what their kids read. With some obvious exceptions (let ’em watch pornography in secret, as God intended), parents should just open the keys to the library and let ’em browse. And when the kids hit the Internet, it will be time to acquaint them with the real facts of life — people lie. Unwitting people repeat the lies. Don’t be caught! Think for yourself! And when your kid asks you for cites on some unsupported piece of bullshit you’ve just promoted, you can congratulate yourself on having done your job well.
If your kid is a smart-ass, so much the better.
And finally: What you do when your kids are around is far more important than anything they read. Inevitably, it is your behavior they are copying — not the behavior you recommend, but the things you actually do. The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, and you’re the tree. Water, prune, fertilize, don’t commit murder. The metaphor just broke down. Writing is hard.
The way to make sure that your kid is a good person is to be a good person yourself. Or as Cozy Classic might put it: Child watch kindness generosity imitate help homeless heal kiss grandma read books!
A whole damn column without Donald Trump. That felt good, didn’t it?
Photography by Tracy “I have too many children!” Johnston
Useful services by Michelle Mizera