Wednesday, October 12, 2011

No More Adventures in Wonderland

It's really scary the kind of horrible stuff that passes for children's lit these days – and then I hear from my wife that these books are all the rage among my children's peers – egads!:

Many authors of more recent books for children and teenagers have similarly crossed over to the dark side, and we applaud them for it. But the savagery we offer children today is more unforgiving than it once was, and the shadows are rarely banished by comic relief. Instead of stories about children who will not grow up, we have stories about children who struggle to survive.

In 2009, Neil Gaiman won the Newbery Medal, the most distinguished award in the field of children's literature, for "The Graveyard Book," a work that makes no bones about its subject matter. Here is what children read on Page 1: "There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife." A few paragraphs later, the wielder of the knife has finished off three family members and is on his way to the nursery to slash the throat of the fourth. It is up to the hero, Bod — short for Nobody — to find the killer.

…Children today get an unprecedented dose of adult reality in their books, sometimes without the redemptive beauty, cathartic humor and healing magic of an earlier time. In "The Hunger Games," the series that best exemplifies this shift, Neverland and Wonderland have been replaced by Panem, a country built on the ruins of what was North America. In an interview, Ms. Collins traced the origins of the books to her anxieties as a child about the possibility that her father might die while fighting in Vietnam. Then, reading the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, she imagined the horrors of parental powerlessness in the face of child sacrifice. The personal mingled with the mythical, then the banal fused with the tragic. While channel surfing years later, Ms. Collins found herself switching between a "Survivor"-style reality show and footage of young people fighting in a real war zone. The lines blurred, and "The Hunger Games" emerged.  


No More Adventures in Wonderland

Published: October 9, 2011

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