Wild Things & Magic Pebbles: Our kids are smarter than we think.

2012-05-17 07:26

Story time in our house is a ritual never to be overlooked. One of the favourites of our 2 ½ year old is Where the Wild Things are, and this was also a favourite of his mother’s 30-odd years ago. It’s such a delight to watch a toddler “gnash his terrible teeth and show his terrible claws”. He knows the words by heart. So it was with great sadness that I read of the death of Wild Things author Maurice Sendak. GOOD has posted an insightful obituary which allows me to better understand the book that we have got to know so well.

Sendak had a great contempt for adults, and didn’t treat children like dummies. “What he did was to acknowledge that children deal with real pain, real disappointment, and real emotions, just like people of all ages.” And this comes through strongly in Wild Things which sees Max angry, disappointed, and abandoned but eventually returning to his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him. And it was still hot.

This respect for the child as an emotionally intelligent being was one of the things our panel looked for when selected the 50 or so books for our Reading Alive classroom library programme at Social Innovations. This programme is being very well received by the 400-odd children in the programme so far.  One of the learner’s favourites is Ouma Ruby’s Secret which talks of the challenges of illiteracy in families where the older generations were not educated. A sad reality in many South African families. It is based on the relationship between the author (Chris van Wyk) and his grandmother when he was a child growing up in Johannesburg. It talks of real issues that children could be faced with every day, but is not moralistic in its tone as many children’s books are.

One of my favourites in the selection is William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble – a book that I read over and over as a young boy. Being somewhat of a melancholy child, I identified with Sylvester’s pain and loss as he was transformed into a rock and gave up all hope of being reunited with his parents. Like Wild Things, the book has a happy ending, and like Wild Things this book also won the esteemed Caldecott Medal for the best illustrated children’s book the year it was published. William Steig went on to create the popular character Shrek (the movie adaptation looks nothing like his original drawings though).

So many children’s books are simplistic in their message and overloaded with the morals they intend to impose on young minds. Authors of classics like Wild Things, Ouma Ruby and Sylvester have managed to go beyond that. They talk to children as intelligent equals, and children respond by reading and enjoying these books for generations after they have been written.

Sendak’s obituary on GOOD can be found at: http://www.good.is/post/the-key-to-maurice-sendak-s-success-with-children-his-contempt-for-adults/

www.socialinnovations.co.za

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