I was in Nashville’s most popular bookstore today, looking for gifts. I was happy to see that the place was fairly mobbed with shoppers. I enjoyed browsing, although as usual half the things I wanted weren’t in stock. Every time I go searching for titles in a brick and mortar store, I am amazed at all the good books that don’t merit shelf space. And all the crappy books that do.
After diligent hunting I did find suitable books for all the adults on my list, then I ventured into the children’s section to get something for my niece’s little boy. He’s almost nine, and I was happy to see that there was a whole wall devoted to fiction for kids his age. He loves sports, has been an amazing little athlete since he was a toddler. Surely there would be plenty of things to interest him.
Nope. There were precious few books about sports, or anything else that would appeal to a kid like my great-nephew. Instead there was volume after volume of what can best be described as the demon spawn of Harry Potter. I swear more than half the books were blatant Potter rip-offs. It was ridiculous. I felt a faint sympathy with the Christian loonies who rail against J. K. Rowling. Hell, I’m a witch and seeing all those books kinda gave me the creeps.
Believe me, I’m not opposed to magical fantasy for kids. I wish there had been more of it when I was a girl, I would have loved it. I just don’t think a steady diet of it is necessarily a good thing, especially when everybody’s getting a steady diet of it. It’s all a little too grandiose, too fixated on power struggles. I think it encourages an unforgiving, oppositional view of the world.
Of course, you can find fault with just about any literature for children. When I was ten I loved Black Beauty, which is a pretty twisted book in its fascination with cruelty. But the shelves in libraries and bookstores weren’t filled with dozens of Black Beauty clones. When I’d wallowed in all the suffering I could stand, I moved on to something a little happier—I had to, if I wanted to keep reading. Kids now could read nothing but wizard fantasies, and obviously a lot of them do or the store wouldn’t keep so many in stock.
Another problem with the glut of Potteresque books is that they don’t leave much space for books to suit kids whose imaginations don’t run in that direction. Not every kid digs wizards. Think how disheartening a visit to the bookstore would be if you were one of those kids.
I wonder what those of you who have young children think about this. What do your kids read? Am I being unnecessarily cranky?
Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith for A Child's Garden of Verses, R.L. Stevenson, 1905.