A good book for children is somehow instructive or nutritive, often morally so. A different content criterion is psychological value. This is what the child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim advocated. It must stimulate his imagination; help him to develop his intellect and to clarify his emotions; be attuned to his anxieties and aspirations; give full recognition to his difficulties, while at the same time suggesting solutions to the problems which perturb him.
Now what are we supposed to do? The results-oriented approach gives us a much broader set of criteria for determining quality. The good ones last. A waltz which you can like only when you are waltzing is a bad waltz.
What a beautiful idea. And how perfectly stated. Lewis is not saying that adults determine which books are good for children, but rather that the truly good books for children are those that fall in the center of a Venn diagram, where one circle is books that children like, and the other is books that adults like. But as much as I enjoy this idea, and as much as I like the waltzing metaphor, why should this be true?
I asked Laura Amy Schlitz. I never grow tired of it.
Damn you, Sendak! Children, in particular, are made to dance. I follow the prophet Walt Whitman: I contain multitudes, and I contradict myself whenever I choose to.
- Where Secrets of the Past Meet Stories of the Present.
- You Can Never Go Back: On Loving Children's Books as an Adult | Literary Hub.
- Cory Doctorow.
The modern view seems to me to involve a false conception of growth. They accuse us of arrested development because we have not lost a taste we had in childhood. But surely arrested development consists not in refusing to lose old things but in failing to add new things? I now like hock, which I am sure I should not have liked as a child. But I still like lemon-squash.
I call this growth or development because I have been enriched: where I formerly had only one pleasure, I now have two. But if I had to lose the taste for lemon-squash before I acquired the taste for hock, that would not be growth but simple change. I now enjoy Tolstoy and Jane Austen and Trollope as well as fairy tales and I call that growth: if I had had to lose the fairy tales in order to acquire the novelists, I would not say that I had grown but only that I had changed.
C.S. Lewis on Violence in Fairy Tales | edge of legible
But I think no literature that children could read gives them less of a false impression. I think what profess to be realistic stories for children are far more likely to deceive them. I never expected the real world to be like the fairy tales. I think that I did expect school to be like the school stories.
The fantasies did not deceive me: the school stories did. All stories in which children have adventures and successes which are possible, in the sense that they do not break the laws of nature, but almost infinitely improbable, are in more danger than the fairy tales of raising false expectations…. This distinction holds for adult reading too. The dangerous fantasy is always superficially realistic. The real victim of wishful reverie does not batten on the Odyssey , The Tempest , or The Worm Ouroboros : he or she prefers stories about millionaires, irresistible beauties, posh hotels, palm beaches and bedroom scenes—things that really might happen, that ought to happen, that would have happened if the reader had had a fair chance.
For, as I say, there are two kinds of longing. The one is an askesis , a spiritual exercise, and the other is a disease. Lewis concludes with a beautiful and urgently important sentiment that applies as much to writing for children as it does to all writing, especially in our age of questionable motives for the written word, and perhaps most of all to life itself.
If we ask that question we are assuming too superior an attitude. But it is better not to ask the question at all. Let the pictures tell you their own moral. For the moral inherent in them will rise from whatever spiritual roots you have succeeded in striking during the whole course of your life.
For the moral you put in is likely to be a platitude, or even a falsehood, skimmed from the surface of your consciousness. It is impertinent to offer the children that. For we have been told on high authority that in the moral sphere they are probably at least as wise as we. We must write for children out of those elements in our own imagination which we share with children: differing from our child readers not by any less, or less serious, interest in the things we handle, but by the fact that we have other interests which children would not share with us.
The matter of our story should be a part of the habitual furniture of our minds. All of the writing in Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories is absolutely fantastic, spanning everything from the nature of storytelling to why writers should read criticism of their own work to the role of science fiction in society. Brain Pickings participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon.