Friday, January 26, 2007

Why are Kids always the protagonists?

I ask in jest of course. But in thinking about "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" yesterday, I wondered whether there are any children's books whose characters are primarily adult. Or at least whose protagonists are adults and children play only a minor role.

Obviously much of the appeal in reading, perhaps especially so with younger readers, is identifying with certain characters. Good children's literature is so validating for kids because it captures their feelings of curiosity, fear, injustice, elation. Children don't know what it's like to BE adult yet, so it makes sense they'd have less interest in adult characters and wouldn't know authentic adult characters if they read them.

On the other hand, children must wonder a lot about why adults do the things they do, act the way they (we) do. Imagine a book written for kids that gave insight into the adult view of the world.

Perhaps such books exist. I just couldn't think of them off the top of my head.

As for "From the Mixed-Up Files...," it's delightful. So far a woman on my bus and a mother at school have come up to me while I'm reading it to say it was their favorite childhood book. I can't believe I never read it.

My son is reading it, too. We haven't discussed it much yet, largely because he's on page ninety-something and I'm on 38.

I know there was a lot of discussion about what to read. It seems there are (at least) two groups: one that wants to read in Chrono order and another that is reading independent selections. That's great. I'll see if I can figure out a way to post a photo of "The Story of Mankind" on the right-hand panel for those who are proceeding as a group. Others, read and post as you see fit.

10 comments:

Corinne said...

Alicia - I can put up a picture for you, if you want - will it let me fiddle with the template?

Julie said...

Well, The Story of Mankind is pretty dry and dusty -- it's exactly what the title says it is. And it doesn't have a child as the protagonist. (Very interesting question, by the way. I can't think of any kids' books that don't have kids as protagonists -- unless maybe you count Lord of the Rings as a kids' book, which I don't, and even then the hobbits are kind of childlike...) Anyway, now that I've seen it, I don't feel as excited about the idea of reading 'em chronologically. I'll read a few more chapters but I doubt I'll finish it. You can look forward to getting it soon. :)

Mixed-up Files was one of my favorites when I was a kid. In fact, I read a bunch of her books in elementary school. My favorite was A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, a historical novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine. I still have vivid memories of some of the scenes from that one.

Melissa said...

Ah, darn it, Julie. I just requested it from the library. :) Maybe I'll just refuse it. I've tried to read a couple of the earlier ones with poor results -- The White Stag was dry but mildly interesting, the Louisa Alcott biography was just dry. Makes you wonder what the requirements were for the books back in the 1920s.

Julie said...

I'm sorry to hear that about The White Stag. That's one I was looking forward to -- I really liked The Singing Tree (same author) when I was a kid.

Melissa said...

It's an okay book. But it's about the Huns, and kind of glorified all the violence they did. And it's got a weird vibe to it. I wasn't sorry I read it, but I wasn't super thrilled about it either.

elswhere said...

Great question. How about the Hermux Tantamoq books, by Michael Hoeye (sp?)? First in the series is "Time Stops for No Mouse." The characters are all animals, but they're adult animals with jobs and such.

Hmm. come to think of it, "Wind in the Willows" is like that too. And "Frog and Toad," for that matter.

I guess you meant *human* adult characters...

Alicia said...

I did mean human adults. Because you're right...in the "animals" category there are many examples (including a few Newbery winners: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH; The Tale of Despereaux -- what is it with rodents?).

The "Mr. Putter and Tabby" books by Cynthia Rylant have elderly Mr. Putter as the main character. They are delightful. But they're more picture books a la Frog and Toad than "literature."

Bekah said...

I read the Louisa book as a pretty young child, and I remember loving it! I started The Story of Mankind last night. I think it's interesting. It does have a more antiquated tone to it, but I read a lot of older material so I'm used to it. My kids and I have been reading The Story of the World, part of The Well-Trained Mind's recommendations, and both cover similar material. The Story of the World is more detailed, and obviously more modern given it was published a couple years ago. The value I see in both books is that it exposes children to history as it should be, a story, not a dry and dusty collection of dates and names. I'll give a more detailed review of TSOM when I finish it...

Julie said...

[waving hand wildly in air] Oh, oh, oh! I just thought of one! The Twenty One Balloons doesn't have any kids in it, except for a couple of very minor characters.

Sandy D. said...

Just (re)-read Island of the Blue Dolphins, and there are really few children in this one. The protagonist is 12 when the book starts, and 30 when it ends. But she's not child-like at all.