Sometimes a monkey is just a monkey

   Many critics, especially those who are more concerned with an agenda rather than with creative and constructive critical exploration bring their overly controlled and narrow authority to bear under the guise of theoretical studies, especially when studying children’s literature.  This is only gross deconstructionism and reveals more about the author’s bias rather than their actual interest in the subject. They tend to ignore the very real problem that children; the target audience of children’s literature do not have the intellectual capacity to process complex and very adult ideas concerning philosophical models. What child understands Lacanian theory? And if the child cannot understand such a theory then can it be said of the theory that it really exists for or has any meaning to the child?  The answer is a concise no. Nor does it exist for the writer of children’s books whose primary concern is the entertainment of children. Philosophical theories are only suited for gaining insight into how adults might reinterpret a given text from childhood. In short Sigmund Freud is best left out of children’s books.

   This is not to suggest children are not concerned with what we adults call philosophy. The opposite is true. Ontology lies at the very heart of children’s literature and children for their part and in their own ways deal with the nature of the universe, and of their own existence in ways that often defy categorization. But they do so at an intuitive level, seeking more than just an answer. Children want true understanding through actual experience either direct or indirect.  For this reason the first question a child learns to ask is why? The “why” question takes a given problem and anchors it to the child’s sense of self, or what could be called his ego. Children are by nature self-centered so their questions must relate to how the world affects them at a personal level.

   Max (Where the Wild Things Are) explored his own psychological existence however he did so not by abstract philosophical theory but through the process of engaging with his own imagination. He created a make-believe world of his own in order to more fully understand and belong to the real world. Alice ventured through Wonderland where she came to see that much of the grownup world  is defined by its absurdities. Once back in the real world She may not have really understood the things grown up did or said but she learned how to navigate herself through their absurdities and their ununderstandable explanations and that is a sign of wisdom. Wilbur, with the help of the gentle spider Charlotte, explored the nature of life and death with the urgency of one who is literally destined for the dinner plate. The reader likewise had to explore this delicate subject. E.B. White did not pull any punches. Death was a very real presence in the barnyard. It played a central role but also appeared as a secondary plot when Charlotte captured an insect in her web (a symbol of both life and death). Life and death co-exist and the reader is not spared the nasty business of death but encouraged to penetrate its mysteries.  These examples and many others make it abundantly clear that children and their literature are deeply rooted in philosophy but this does not mean children use philosophy as a technical process.

   Just because the adult critic discovers the perverse emotional structure of Curious George in no way suggests that Curious George is anything more than a Monkey who is curious nor does it suggest the child reading about his adventures needs a philosophical framework with which to understand what is happening. After all sometimes a monkey is just a monkey…

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