My Five Least Popular Opinions

I feel like driving up web traffic and cultivating more of a controversial, Ellisonesque (which I might have just coined) web persona, so here are five of what I imagine are unpopular opinions in the kid lit world.

1. I don’t see the point of Mock Newberys. Sorting books into winners and losers is an industry thing, meant for grownups. Even that’s overdone, but I’ve come to accept it the way I accept long traffic lights and weeds along the retaining wall. But why train kids to do it? Most will never be on an ALA committee, and l feel there are better ways to have kids talk about books. I appreciate the fact that kids might have discussions about why a book does or doesn’t resonate for them, and they absolutely should, but they can have those discussions without ending in a final “in/not in” vote and verdict.

2. I’m over Joseph Campbell. At one time authors might have been inspired by Campbell, but now the mythic archetype has become a pedestrian “to-do” list for fantasy authors. Enter the mentor on chapter five, who will die halfway through the series, etc. It’s become a formula. The original myths were instinctive and intuitive. I think your own stories should be the same.

3. I am sick of dystopia. Understand, I have good friends who are good writers creating their own horrifying visions for the future, so this is the thing I’m less comfortable coming clean on, but here it is: I am not only sick of dystopia the way I am sick of vampires, I loathe the trend completely and want most of the representative books to go out of print. Including — here’s where I lose everybody — including the dystopian trilogy that everybody else thinks is so awesome. A few books about the future are fine, but now far-flung futures have just become low-credibility territory where things don’t have to make a lot of sense, built around high-concept pitches of what is uniquely awful about this future.

But beyond that, I think they exacerbate the gloom and doom that is spoiling our political process and heightening apocalyptic thinking. It seems like dystopian novels always abandon dates and history. We need to take a long view of the future that is made of numerable years. Wherever we are headed, we get there from here, and we’re in control. Where’s Gene Rodenberry when you need him?

4. I don’t think it matters if kids read a lot, as long as they read. Now I’m really bringing out the boxing gloves, but maybe quantity is over-emphasized. I mean, there are clear advantages to quantity reading when it comes to building verbal skills, etc. From that perspective, reading a lot is great. But past that, I think it’s fine for a kid to be selective and slow as a reader. If he or she picks that book carefully, reads it cover to cover, and it means a lot to them, I think they are a successful reader. Even if it takes them forever to read it. Even if they decide that’s enough reading for a while and they don’t read another one for six weeks. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with kids about books are with the kids who don’t read many books, but really read the stuffing out of one.

5. I love Madonna’s picture books. Actually, I haven’t read them. I just wanted to say something really scandalous to give a little context to the previous four confessions.

13 thoughts on “My Five Least Popular Opinions

    • Things aren’t as dire as people think, but the panic aspect can make them go south in a hurry.\

      We have a monkey robot butler. Don’t you?

  1. I agree with you on all of these, but I still will be downloading the third book of that dystopian series because it’s great summer reading. It’s like chocolate cake for breakfast.

  2. “kids who don’t read many books, but really read the stuffing out of one.”

    Hear, hear. I love this perspective, and I may steal your phrasing.

    As for being sick of dystopian fiction, I guess now is not the time to confess that I’m mulling over a project that will highlight the vast genre of dystopian, post-apocalyptic, and far-future sci-fi? Hmmm. We will never speak of this again.

    • Well, a critical survey of the stuff is probably much in demand, but you’ll be steeped in the stuff! I would be curious what stands out. I did like the Ember books and of course The Giver is pretty great. And I love William Gibson.

  3. #4: Parents regularly drive me crazy when they say “My kid doesn’t read” and then when I take them to the shelf for recommendations they say “Just don’t give him/her any of those graphic novels/science fiction and fantasy paperbacks/etc. that s/he always reads! You need to read *real* books!” So . . . your kid IS a reader, they just don’t read what you want them to read. Some parents are this way even about non-fiction! (Aka non-fiction is not a “real” book like a novel is.) It makes me especially mad because we work hard every day to create readers out of non-readers, to find those magical books that will be a gateway for them. So when these parents think they have a problem on their hands I want to introduce them to some of the other kids who come in every day, the kids who won’t even touch a book we’re trying to hand to them. ARGH, people. Your kid is reading and when you try to dictate what is “real” reading and what is not, you’re driving a wedge.

    • A lot of boys like nonfiction but parents think it doesn’t count because it’s just sports biographies or whatever. I have a little fun with this in Mudville when Roy admits his favorite book is a sports bio and Rita is horrified.

  4. I agree with the dystopian mania. Or maybe that’s just because I haven’t tried it.

    I always end up with monsters chasing my characters, so I maybe I shouldn’t talk.

    Madonna’s picture book. Didn’t she come out with one of those for adults about 20 years ago?

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