Check out the children's section of the bookstore, and you'll find a book that looks exactly like a nine-year-old's private diary. It's filled with silly observations and crude, hand-drawn pictures, like a sketch of a girl sticking French fries up her nose.
Surprisingly, the book is not a child's diary. It's merely masquerading as one. The title is Amelia's Notebook, and it's so popular that it has spawned two sequels. But why are parents buying books that stoop to the level of a nine-year-old?
In Amelia's Notebook, we find Amelia making fun of her teacher's Brillo pad hair, and complaining that her sister smells bad. Across another page, Amelia scrawls "Top Secret!" and "Keep Out!" Without a doubt the author has captured the self-obsessed, melodramatic voice of a pre-adolescent.
Another book of the same genre is The Great Puke-Off, which tells the story of two kids who hope to induce another child to lose his lunch by putting a cockroach on his burrito.
It's enough to make any parent lose his lunch.
Is this the kind of literature we should be buying for our children? Of course, we want books that celebrate childhood. But this new crop celebrates childishness. They encourage kids to revel in the worst aspects of immaturity.
This new approach is a far cry from the role children's books have traditionally played. Once upon a time, stories were filled with what Harvard child psychiatrist Robert Coles calls "moral energy"; lessons that gently set kids on the path to adulthood. Think of Pinocchio, which warned kids against irresponsibility and lying. The Ugly Duckling encouraged children to look beyond the surface.
How did we go from great stories like these to Amelia's Notebook and The Great Puke-Off?
The answer has to do with the modern notion that adults have nothing important to say to children. Like many modern ideas, this one was first popularized during the Enlightenment by the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau was an atheist who taught that man is not born fallen and foolish, with a need to learn wisdom, as scripture teaches. Instead, he said, humans are born innocent and with innate wisdom.
Today's children's books reflect this idea. They suggest that adults should not attempt to impose their ideas of wisdom on kids; and that children are right to want to celebrate childish behavior.
But the Bible doesn't romanticize children that way. Children, like the rest of us, are subject to sin and self-will. Hence the book of Proverbs is full of warnings to children to heed the wisdom of their parents. And parents are admonished to teach their children at every opportunity.
This is not to deny that good children's literature look at life from a kid's eye view. But the stories are animated with "moral energy" as the characters face challenges, overcome their weaknesses. For example, The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain is told through the eyes of two boys. Through the events of the plot, each boy is prodded to grow up and learn more mature character.
This is the kind of book we should be buying for our children. If you call BreakPoint, we'll send you a list of great books for children.
Books that will encourage your kids to gradually put away childish things . . . and grow toward Christ-like maturity.