>Over at Nonfiction Matters, Marc Aronson cautions us to think about the larger context in which debates about social responsibility and the Newbery take place: “What I’d like is a set of comments on the Newbery that is not drawn from a survey of four winners, or the latest demographic chart, but a wider sense of art and culture in our time.”
I’m again reminded of the infamous editorial-page fight between Horn Book editor Ethel Heins and SLJ editor Lillian Gerhardt. Rejecting the line (promulgated by the Horn Book among others) that children’s books were all of a piece with other contemporary literature, Lillian wrote that “from where we sit, books for children are more accurately described as: the last bastion of yesterday’s literary methods and standards.” Ethel then said that modern adult fiction had gone to hell and children’s books were the last refuge of Story; Lillian subsequently threatened to take the train up to Boston and hit Ethel over the head with a chair.
Because we view both children and children’s literature as protected species, it’s true that in our field we have debates that would seem peculiar if applied to adult books and readers. We don’t worry, for example, about grown men not reading, except insofar as it might “send the wrong message” to their sons. But worries about “representation” of various ethnicities, gender, and sexual orientations do have a precedent in the social change movements of the 60s and 70s, with such critics as Kate Millett warning us about how destructive Henry Miller was to women. I’m guessing that Marc would tell me that someone got there before Kate, too!