Let’s get one thing straight. I abhor the desecration of books. I banished a daughter from reading a book from my cartoon library — which I had kept pristine over countless readings for more than 25 years — for folding and ruining the cover. She sobbed. I held fast.
Maybe I get more worked up than I need to (“Don’t you ever, EVER step on a book!!!”) when I see my children mistreating their books (“Turn the pages from the OUTSIDE EDGE or you’ll rip them!”). I may have some deeper issues that need addressing (“GAAAHHH! Keep those wet fingers away from the page!”).
Even with the pulpiest of novels, I will comb the entire house for a suitable bookmark rather than dog-ear a page. I’m fine with a book looking fuzzy around the edges for being well read, but never, ever with one victimized by callous disregard.
I don’t know, but there is something simply sacred about a book. To me, each one is like a little Bible — wrapped in a flag.
So it is with no frivolity that I say…
There are some children’s books I am this/close to burning.
Not just books with the words, “Free Stickers Inside!” on the cover. Not just books with flaps or fold-out pages. (Seriously, there is no visual effect so clever that it warrants a fold-out in a children’s book. Because, no matter how stunning the image, it will be marred by tape after it is ripped by eager little fingers.) And not just books with doggerel rhyme.
But while we’re on the topic, please note: “elephant” does not rhyme with “tent.” First of all, to be a proper rhyme, the rhyme needs to begin with the stressed syllable, the “el” in “elephant.” But even if you allow for such sloppiness and forgive the way it makes the verse much harder to read aloud, “tent” still does not rhyme with the “phant” in “elephant.” The first has a short “e,” the second a schwa “e” sound.
It’s not simply a matter of fastidious art snobbery. Rhyme is used in kids’ books to help kids learn the sounds of the written word. If they can read “tent,” that helps them read bent, dent, lent, rent, and went. So if you can’t properly rhyme “elephant” in your silly little poem, then pick another animal. Or put the elephant in another part of the line. How hard is that?
But the book I draw this elephant-tent example from also happens to be an example of a worse crime against children. The crime that most makes me want to whip out the Zippo. Bad facts. This book says penguins can be found in the Arctic. What, are penguins suddenly bi-polar?
What kids hear in children’s books becomes etched in their brains. As adults, they will spout facts they learned in these books as if they were Gospel truths heard first-hand at the Sermon on the Mount. So, whatever you do in writing for kids, get your facts straight. Even to the smallest detail.
If you write about a sheep who dreams of becoming a “Country-and-Western singer,” know that the “and Western” was passé when the Blues Brothers joked about it back in the 1970’s. It’s just “Country” now. The outdated reference only betrays a clueless chauvinism trying to pass as elitist hip.
Last night we read a book that commits a similar cultural faux pas. It’s about a group of sisters who are decidedly Chinese. The illustrations emulate traditional Chinese art. Their home has Chinese architecture. They live in China. One of the sisters is an expert in “karate.”
What??? Karate? That’s not Chinese. That’s Japanese. With one word, the author has just offended nearly 20% of the world’s population. Plus one über-nerdy dad.
(Sigh.) Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m wound too tight. Maybe I just woke up cranky today. If so, then I apologize.
Or am I not alone? I’d love you to give me a reality check.
If I need to have a beer and mellow out, please tell me so. I won’t mind. Especially about the beer part.
But if any of you are similarly offended by crimes against young readers, please shout ‘em out. Anything from typos to inappropriate themes to glaring idiocy.
Whatever the upshot, beer or company, it is sure to make me feel just a little less crazy. Thank you.