Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Children's Author and Illustrator Week: Because Obviously That Alligator Eats People

This week is children's author and illustrator week. In celebration the Booksmith kids team is putting up something new and kids related everyday this week. We spend most of our lives celebrating kids books and will seize any excuse to share that with the world.

Monday Alex talked about picture books.
Tuesday I did a brief recap of the Youth Media Awards

Today, I am going to talk about something about kids books that I have such a great appreciation for:

Dark, off-beat humor.

Off-beat humor has always existed and I'm pretty sure it's always been in kids books but it seems to be on a major upswing now.

This is the time of Jon Klassen and what-did-happen-to-the-rabbit.
This might actually be one of my favorite illustrations ever.

Oliver Jeffers and the cup who just wants to know what it's like by the window and throws itself out of the cabinet to the concrete counter.
Me too!
Mac Barnett and man-a-blue-whale-is-the-best-punishment-ever.

Neil Gaiman and I-love-my-dad-but-it's-TWO-goldfish.
They are really pretty goldfish...
Mo Willems and the-snake-wants-to-play-catch-so-we'll-just-keep-throwing-things-at-him.

And it's not just the picture books. Lemony Snicket made a name for himself writing about books that tell the reader everyone inside is miserable. Yes, they are and the books are so bleak they have a ridiculous humor to them.

Not only that, look at some of the books that are still classics. Every book by Roald Dahl ever. Edward Gorey (though, I think it's mostly adults who go for this one). Maurice Sendak. Not the lightest fare.

I started to say that I like cute books as much as anyone but that's not entirely true. I do like some cute books but I like the ones that have a really melancholy sort of edge. Pure sweet has never really been my thing.

One of the sweetest picture books I like is Oliver and His Alligator and Oliver's alligator eats people when he gets nervous.

I love the alligator. Just look at it.

The thing is that I don't think it's really the sort of thing most kids pick for themselves either. The truth is kids are blood thirsty creatures. They love conflict, the more ridiculous and bleak the better. There's the really wonderful line in Holly Black's Darkest Part of the Forest that goes:

"Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice."

Yes! They do! Read I Want My Hat Back with some kids and ask them what happened to the rabbit at the end.

The sweet, heart-felt books are good and kids should get to see those too but there's something about the absoluteness of dark humor that just makes perfect sense to kids and, I as a person who never grew out of that dark sense of humor, really appreciates that authors are still willing to embrace that and that parents are still willing to buy them.

Plus, any excuse to talk more about Mac Barnett makes the whole kids section happy so there's that.

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