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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

When Adult Authors Get Around To Noticing Our World

Did You Catch Michael Chabon’s Essay and Nicholas Kristoff’s Op-Ed?

Michael Chabon’s is the current New York Review of Books, tinyurl.com/netgaa; Krisftoff’s was his regular Sunday Op-Ed in the Times, tinyurl.com/lflloo In a way, they are the two poles of how bright, creative, adults tend to write about kids and books — for better and for worse. Chabon is lamenting how controlled childhood has become, how kids are constrained, how we hover over them, manage them, and deny them that venture into the island of the wild things that they actually need. I agree completely — one reason I love pick up basketball is that, as far as I can tell, it — along with pick up soccer — are the only places we still let kids play with whoever shows up, making up their own rules, settling their own disputes, finding their own ways. Yes, kids need spaces to explore and play. My only objection to Chabon’s essay is that it is old news. Here is just one version of the same argument made three years ago, and there are many more: tinyurl.com/mfcwol

I don’t disagree with Chabon at all, and he is an articulate spokesman I am glad to have speaking for a point of view I care about. But so often authors who don’t follow the world of children and literature closely parachute in with an opinion, as if they were the first to notice this neglected area — neglecting themselves to note how much serious thought and attention has long been given to exactly the same issues and concerns.

Which brings me to Kristoff. Great to have a thoughtful, educated, articulate author notice and care about kids and summer reading. But notice, again, his list of  the Best Kids Books Ever! is entirely fiction — and yet his reason for writing the article is the apprent decline in IQ over the summer of kids who don’t read during those months. Isn’t the obvious point that kids who don’t read, don’t like to read so — back to my blog of a few days ago — shouldn’t we offer them books, articles, websites related to their interests — which, over the summer, are very likely to center on sports, physical activity, real actions in the real world. 

I really do appreciate having such smart writers notice us. I think we need all of the cross-fertilization with adult critics we can get. But, in turn, I wish those critics would look past their own children and own experience say they can write about our books with the same consideration and depth they use when writing about books written for adults.

Comments

  1. Elizabeth Wrigley-Field says:

    The other oddity of Kristoff’s essay is that he is picking almost entirely books from an earlier era. I mean, I happen to have a deep and abiding love of the Freddy the Pig books myself, but in more ways than being entirely fiction, this list hits an exceedingly narrow range of kids’ lit.

    I feel that he’s giving us a list of the books he’s most enjoyed reading to his own children — which is fabulous fodder for a column, but then he should write *that* column.

    Dressing it up with the IQ stuff is misleading (if that’s the point, then he should talk to some librarians about what books are actually likeliest to entice reluctant readers), and it also misses the potentially interesting, more personal column I feel he could have written.

  2. marc says:

    This post came from Elizabeth Wrigley-Field (real name?) but for some reason did not show up. I am re-posting it for her.

    The other oddity of Kristoff’s essay is that he is picking almost entirely books from an earlier era. I mean, I happen to have a deep and abiding love of the Freddy the Pig books myself, but in more ways than being entirely fiction, this list hits an exceedingly narrow range of kids’ lit.

    I feel that he’s giving us a list of the books he’s most enjoyed reading to his own children — which is fabulous fodder for a column, but then he should write *that* column.

    Dressing it up with the IQ stuff is misleading (if that’s the point, then he should talk to some librarians about what books are actually likeliest to entice reluctant readers), and it also misses the potentially interesting, more personal column I feel he could have written.

  3. marc says:

    here is one of the comments sent to Mr. Kristoff. So sad that the mother sees her son’s reading preferences as a problem: Funny your column should appear today. I stood, 15 minutes, at Barnes & Noble’s fiction aisle scratching my head as to what my 12 year old boy would like to read.

    “My boy loves non-fiction, all sorts of facts, adores almanacs, love history…but, hates fiction! What to do? I asked an older gentleman what were some books he read as a boy. He answered: “Mysterious Island,” and “Mutiny On the Bounty.” We’ve tried Hardy Boys, Harry Potter…it didn’t go over too well. I’ve finally settled on “The Road,” an easy read than most adult books, albeit, depressing.”

    Why not settle on nonfiction?

  4. Elizabeth Wrigley-Field says:

    Thanks, Marc. And, it really is my name — mom’s Wrigley, dad’s Field!

    That comment from the mom is incredibly telling. I can understand parents’ frustration when kids don’t like reading, but that sounds like a boy who takes great pleasure in reading!

    And frankly, his history reading is probably a great deal more enlightening than all the Sweet Valley High I devoured in my youth.

  5. Frank Page says:

    Hey, Marc, maybe you ought to ease up a little on Chabon for “parachuting in.” The piece was just PUBLISHED, but it was written and delivered as a talk first, one he was giving as long ago as 2002, back when his novel for kids was published.

  6. marc says:

    Frank — I did not know that, thanks, that is helpful and does put his remarks in context — though also explains a bit why they sounds so dated. I guess the NYRB had space to fill in a summer issue.