The poems contained in this children’s poetry portfolio are not made for children.

Lemony Snicket properly starts the introduction to his poetry portfolio All Good Slides are Slippery with what I consider to be the golden rule of good children’s literature, and the reason I hesitated to agree with the quotation Lytton put on the board last class (someone help me out with the details of it, please).

Here’s the portfolio as it appeared in Poetry magazine (with awesome illustrations from Chris Raschka):

The “plain poetry” that was suggested as a tool to teach American children the meaning of the sentence would probably have the unfortunate tone that Lemony Snicket describes as “the high pitched voice of an irritating simpleton.” While it might be effective in teaching children about the sentence it certainly wouldn’t be fun, and would probably estrange children to poetry even more than what most schools achieve today.

I’ve greatly enjoyed these sort of collections(another example being Harold Bloom’s wonderful, but stupidly named, collection Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages), and remember being annoyed by Y.A. stuff in middle school, so I’m beginning to think that children’s literature is at its best when it’s enfranchised through a collector like Snicket or Bloom rather than through the intent of the author. So why would we teach our children with plain poetry? and why would we bore them with middling Y.A. stuff?


2 Replies to “The poems contained in this children’s poetry portfolio are not made for children.”

  1. I really loved that link Robbie! Children’s literature always seems to be categorized by age group, and that’s even more interesting when you consider that children’s lit (alongside Y.A.) is one of the only genre’s of literature that is defined by the people who read it. It’s important to remember that up until a certain age, the books that children are exposed to are the ones that their parents choose to provide for them. Although Lemony Snicket is “suspicious of anything written specifically for children,” there is definitely the opposite argument that writers of this genre need to be careful they aren’t writing children’s literature for the parents of the children these books are aimed at.

    I agree almost fully with Snicket’s sentiment, “Poems, like children, are individuals, and will not be liked by every single person who happens to come across them.” As I sort of mentioned in class when Lytton showed us that quote, the problem with it was that it felt like a parent/adult’s view of what literature should be for a child, and not what a child would look for in a reading experience. Children to not want to read “plain poetry” anymore than we, college students and adults, would want to.

    As I’ve recently been struggling to understand the creative process that goes into writing for children I’ve started to realize that I wasn’t ever concerned with whether a child would get a certain concept, character, symbol, or whatever. Children are smart, and they have a great understanding of the complexities literature–they know a good book from a bad one. Children, just as much as we do, like the thrill of subverted expectations, character developments, and unique imagery. As far as this relates to the specificity of children’s poetry, like the examples provided in “All Good Slides Are Slippery,” if those poems were taken out of the context to that article I wouldn’t have defined them as “for children,” as I sincerely believe the best of children’s literature is the best because it’s appreciated and loved by people of all ages.

    This was a really great article, Robbie, thank you so much for sharing!

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