Sunday, October 28, 2012

Adult Writers: Teaching our Youth (Week 8)

First off, let me apologize for my rambling, maybe a bit off-kilter blog last week. After two 10-11 hour works days in a row and balancing the rest of the week, occasionally add up to really late night and spaced out blogging. Tonight might not be too much better: I've been fighting a migraine since last night and can't seem to shake this throbbing in my head. However, at least it won't be 3 AM, and baby, I'm not lonely.

Alright, enough with the 90s song references.

Like most of the literature we've read so far in my Senior Seminar course, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor is not the stereotypical children's book. When we think children's literature, we think Dr. Seuss and See Spot Run and The Bernstein Bears collections, but in reality, those aren't
really what children read and if we think about it, we know that. We all read books like Little House on the Prairie and  The American Girl book Collections. So why do these come to mind and not books like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry which is focused on the racism in a small town?

Maybe it's because we see childhood as a world of innocence that we would rather not tarnish. All we want to see is Spot chasing after his ball, but children are looking for more in their literature. People writing for children understand this. Kelly McDowell states early on in her article ("Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry: A Culturally Specific, Subversive Concept of Child Agency"), that an "adult writer" instructs "the child how the adult world desires her to be" (Pg. 214) through their works. We discussed the same thing when it came to faery tales and it still rings true in modern works. We've seen it in Little House when Laura questions the world and is considered the bad one and Mary, who is subservient and quiet, is considered the good one.

I could point out in everything we've read that could children learn (including disembowelment and thievery), but in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry I think children learn a much harsher lesson than in the other books. They learn the terror of racism in a descriptive and powerful manner. Men get burned to death and lynchings are barely avoided let alone the fact that children on the end of ugly teasing (harassment?) dig a ditch to trap a bus full of children in it. Through out this book violence and vulgarity seem to breed the same. The characters on either side of the race argument are tearing at one another in any way the kind in a small town civil war of sorts. These are hard things for children to handle and a part of me wonders what they take out of this book. Is it violence as an answer? Or do they see the destruction in the hate and seek out ways to handle society in a productive manner? I like to think the author is pointing out how the world shouldn't be, but will children take it that way?


  1. You know what's funny? How kids'll usually be pretty demanding about having non-escapist books, but a lot of adults read things strictly for the purposes of avoiding reality. I imagine it's because kids don't really have an idea of how harsh the realities of life and therefore feel no need to escape. And then adults go through hardships and they're all "man let's read us some 50 shades of gray because this helps me deal with the disappointments of my life." In short, kids sometimes have more mature tastes than adults.

  2. Yeah, I think there is definitely this "innocence" that is trying to be protected. I think it has gotten worse and worse as time goes on, as well. With book censorship and flat out banning of certain books, I think this becomes obvious. I have an inkling, though, that this trend will shift back to a less censored one, perhaps due to Internet advocates and access. Maybe we can start giving kids a bit more credit for what they can handle and be there as adults to explain to them how things are. But I don't have kids, so what do I know?