Friday, October 23, 2009

The emotional core of children

Read an amazing picture book today called WHEN THEY FIGHT by Kathryn White, illustrated by Cliff Wright. It's about a family of badgers, and when the Mom and Dad fight, tooth and nail, it's overwhelming and scary for their child. But when the Mom and Dad are happy, the child feels safe and begins to realize how strong he is. The book is intended to help people, children and parents, work through and explain their emotions.

A little heavy? Certainly. According to my classmate, who shared the book with me, it couldn't even find a UK publisher until a publisher in the US picked it up. But the book doesn't feel irrelevant for a child. Parents do fight, children do get scared. We've been talking in class about the emotional core in picture books, and how the best stories speak to something inside children that is true and makes them feel accepted. Remember Max in WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE? He's not a good boy; he gets sent to bed without his supper. The subtext in the pictures is even more terrible. Is he nailing his bed sheet to the wall? Has he hung his stuffed toy by the neck?

Because of the recent movie, Maurice Sendak has received a fair amount of publicity lately for his anger over parents saying WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE might be too scary for children (here's an article about it in the Guardian). Sendak says, in referring to an argument about whether or not Max's supper should be "hot" as opposed to "warm": "Just trying to convey how dopey 'warm' sounded. Unemotional. Undramatic. Everything about that book is 'hot'."


  1. Interesting post! It seems like adults would love to give children happy, cutesy picture books all the time, but you're absolutely right that parents fight and children get scared; why shouldn't picture books reflect those kinds of honest emotions? I can see how writing (and publishing) those kinds of books can seem like a risk, but if they're written in an honest way (like Wild Things) then they can have a lot of resonance with children as well as adults.

  2. I just read this article in the New Yorker about childen's books -- and it mentions Where the Wild Things Are (a book I loved in my own childhood). The article in the NYer makes an interesting point about modern ideas of parenting and childhood.
    I can't seem to past the link, but the article is by Daniel Zalewski and the article is called, "The Defiant Ones: In Today's Picture Books, Kids Are in Charge" Might be good fodder for you and your classmates.

    Yes, I am lurking about on your page when I have the chance!

  3. Lurk away, Peggy, so nice to hear from you and know you're reading!

    Yeah, links don't work in the comments section without using html. Very annoying. I will look up the article right now, though.



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