The Original French Version HERE - The English version has been translated by Jon-Michael McLean
Literature for children is born of a desire to educate by means of non-didactic works, which are more attractive for young readers. This objective hasn’t lost any of its force today. This, even more so that the link between success at school and reading is now of first importance for parents who endure the pressure of unemployment and wish at all costs for the success of their children. Thus, their choices largely fall on books that are at once recreational and educational.
However, educating is also about preparing children to live together, in respect of others and of the planet. And literature for children is one of the great mediums of what is commonly referred to as “civic rights education”. Numerous books for children and adolescents bear privileged themes, such as the question of living together, respect of differences, but also the stakes of saving the environment, etc. Often, such books come from author-educators that have the intention of spurring children towards virtuous behavior in the domains of social relations or in their connection with the world.
Regarding these books bought by adults, the question is rarely asked as to how they are received by children. Yet we can ponder the manner in which children receive these messages. Whoever has already worked with a children’s audience knows for example that they are very attentive to questions linked with the environment as well as being quick to carry out actions in favor of saving the planet. Consequently, how do they receive these books that demonstrate the importance of acting, when they themselves are already convinced? Could they not legitimately wonder about these adults that bid them to go into action for environmental causes even though the immediately preceding generations have singularly left the planet in a state of deterioration?
In these “citizen” works, we find many preoccupations of adults and rather little questioning of children. What are the topics that children would like to see treated? This seems to be insufficiently asked by authors and publishers. Olivier Douzou, who released a picture book in 1994 about homeless people (Les petits bonhommes sur le carreau, éditions du Rouergue), was the target of hostile reactions on the part of parents that didn’t understand that one could approach such a theme in a book for children. Some years later, the author analyzed these reactions by comparing them to those of adults who, confronted with a child who has stopped on the sidewalk in front of a homeless person and struggles to comprehend, pulls the child’s hand and asks him or her to hurry up. Now, why and how people can sleep in the street is a strong and sensitive concern of children.
After all, who wonders which themes of society are fit for children? We would certainly be surprised. For example, a leading topic for child is that of justice, however, principally in their relationship with adults (laws dictated by adults, unfair punishments, parental mistreatment, etc.). However, who would dare take the child’s side towards arbitrary punishments inflicted by adults? Well, it is indeed the great authors of literature yet so removed from civic rights educational intentions! Roald Dahl, for example, whose entire work is a message of complicity towards a weak or mistreated child, does just that. Tomi Ungerer does as well, in systematically giving beautiful roles to children confronted with adults. Or even Maurice Sendak, who had this terrific catchphrase: “what a child is looking to find is a bit truth somewhere”.
This is perhaps a reflection that authors should still more largely follow up on…