Parents are forced to lower what they expect from art until a distinction between Arthur and Clifford becomes significant. Of course on one level it is a meaningful distinction: Clifford is formulaic and saccharine while Arthur is engaging in the way it plays with formulas. The problem is that, when we make distinctions like this, we think we’re distinguishing between something only a child could enjoy and something an adult can enjoy with a child. Arthur is so much better that we turn to it with relief, and think it has appeal beyond its familiarity. But Arthur is not really an adult pleasure.
The same goes for picture books. With a few glorious exceptions, even the best picture books will hold an adult’s attention mainly because she is enjoying the child’s enjoyment, not because she’s intrinsically interested. Of course this changes with chapter books; many adults, I among them, read children’s chapter books avidly, and with the greatest delight. But, notwithstanding a recent reading together of what Eila insists on calling Alison Wonderland (abetted by the wonderful new drawings of Alison Jay) Eila is not yet at the chapter book stage. She is not ready for the Bastables.
Meanwhile, I’ve come across that rare thing, something that really, actually entertains and enlightens both of us: Shel Silverstein. What wonderful poems he writes! Almost all of them amuse, and some are absolutely breathtaking.
Interestingly, I’ve found they have to be read aloud in order to scan. Read silently they don’t hang together at all, while out loud they scan effortlessly, all by themselves. I’m also reading Richard Wilbur at the moment, and his poems scan in the mind, not requiring a movement of the lips. I don’t know anything about this difference, though I’m sure it’s familiar to those with expertise in poetic theory. All I know is that Silverstein, at his best, is just about as good as Wilbur.
I’ve got a ton to blog about, but also a conference to attend this weekend and paper to finish today, for delivery Sunday morning. Talk to you on Tuesday.