Thursday, March 19, 2009

Are Children's Books So Black and White?

In today's Guardian book blog you'll find a post entitled The eternal allure of good v evil. The subtitle reads "The larger-than-life, black-and-white morality of children's books is a relief for adult readers tired of ambiguity."

**Shaking head** Hmmmm... Really?

Here's how it begins.
Children, like dogs, see morality in black and white, their monochrome perspective reflecting the heated simplicity of the playground ("He started it!", "It's not fair!"). Before they're old enough to concede, sullenly, that life's not fair and start reading the latest contenders for the Booker, young readers immerse themselves enthusiastically in extravagant, epic quests: viscerally satisfying showdowns between good and evil in which you emphatically don't have to see the other fellow's point of view.
Williams is writing about epic quest novels here and discusses some of her favorites from childhood. Pullman and Rowling are also mentioned. While I understand what she's trying to say, I find it simplistic to say that children's/young adult literature is so cut and dried. And lacking ambiguity? Please! Yes, there is the theme of good vs. evil, but sometimes it's not easy to tell which team folks are playing for. Fantasy books today are not as black and white as they seem. And as to not seeing the other fellow's point of view? I have a "Trust Snape" t-shirt (thanks Leila!) that says otherwise.


  1. Yeah, I saw that, too, and was just shaking my head...

    I hate to hear people sort of set their own ideas and ideals on top of kids' heads and say "THIS is what they think, THIS is what it's like," and to a certain extent as a YA writer, you do that anyway... but I hope I can do it a lot less obnoxiously.

  2. That was an interesting article that you talked about and I agree with you. I think it's hard to classify what is good and what is evil. I mean, I guess it's ok for children, but I feel that once you become an adult, you learn more about the world and you begin to analyze literature a little bit more closely when you realized that there is really no such thing as an absolute good nor an absolute evil. You can't really go back to what you thought like when you were a child. You can't really assume something and classify something as good or bad because one not see the whole picture. And hey! "Evil people" can be "weak-kneed". It's a sticky situation, but one can question why we have that distiction of good and evil presented to kids in the first place. Yes, it may be for the drive and motivation of the story, but one has to wonder why you have to classify some characters as the absolute hero and the absolute villan.