no labels

Over at Fitch Happens, Sheree Fitch has written an interesting post on the question of what is children’s poetry? and why it’s even a question—in the end determining that “children’s poetry is poetry”… to which I say hallelujah, thank you and yes. I couldn’t agree more and would only add that society’s analysis of art, generally, combined with the impulse to categorize, complicate and impose labels on everything, serves no purpose that I can see except to make me tip over with the weight of it all.

Moving slightly beyond poetry—and if it must be defined—then, okay, what is a children’s book, story, poem, song…?

I suppose it’s something created with the child-nature in mind, however that doesn’t mean its appeal needs to be limited to children. I collect picture books because they’re gorgeous works of art on many levels and I love reading them for their whimsy, humour and joy as well as their philosophy and depth; they remind me of aspects of life, who we are, what’s important, in a way that nothing else does.

I’d like to think that children, also, are benefiting from reading outside the ages suggested on the backs of books—both higher and lower ages—and that teenagers are including both middle grade and adult books among their choices, and vice versa in all directions.

When we read as children, or are read to, we take away one thing, but if we dare to (are allowed to/allow ourselves to) come back to the same book as an older child, a teenager, an adult, we get something entirely different (or—also very nice—are reminded of the original insight). As with any art form, we take from it what we need at that moment.  When we read to our children, that’s one thing, but my hope is that we don’t read children’s books only because we have children, but because we were children, and because there’s bits of us from that enchanted time we’d be wise to try to hold onto.

Labels are useful for publishing houses, bookstores and libraries but we mustn’t let that limit our choices, for ourselves or our kids (or the gifts we give each other; I love giving picture books to adults).

Consider those merry chaps, those pre-label Grimm Brothers, who wrote at a time when stories weren’t specifically for children and whose stories can absolutely be consumed by all ages and then consider what’s been done to the original “faerie tale”— Disney is a good example of “kiddifying” work. In commercial hands stories quickly become shlock, so much candyfloss.

Maybe THAT’S what we’re talking about when we talk of “kid stuff”.

But that stuff isn’t the real goods—because real words are ageless. And because everyone knows once you’ve discovered the real thing you’ve discovered it for always.


From the Re-Run Series: orginally posted November, 2011.

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