This summer I am taking a course on children’s literature and youth collection development. What this translates to, essentially, is that we read kids books such as Curious George and then discuss them using fancy academic terminology rather than “Cows go moo. Pigs go oink. Monkeys go eeeek-eeek!” Later on we have to give book talks, which I suppose is what Oprah does in her book club, except we can trash the titles we don’t like as well.
The class makes for a good excuse to read the books that you weren’t exposed to as a child and re-read those that were memorable. One of my favourite picture book is called If the dinosaurs came back by Bernard Most. Unlike Jurassic Park, these dinosaurs are friendly and colourful. They wander through town. They smile at skyscrapers. They don’t eat humans for dinner. Instead, they allow them to get comfy on their necks to read a newspaper.
I think it was the only picture book I owned (and lost). The other books that I have from my childhood are hand-me-downs from my older brother. He had the complete Goosebump and Fear Street series by R.L. Stine. Back in the days, R.L. Stine was incredibly popular. Not as big as J.K. Rowling but bigger than whoever wrote Lemony Snicket and Captain Underpants. His books use to make me paranoid that the sponge in my sink may be cursed (like Grool from It Came From Beneath the Sink) or that the class hamster was evil (like Cuddles the hamster from Monster Blood).
As I grew older, I read nearly every teen novel available at my neighbourhood library. One that I had purchased was a love story told in poems called What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones.
When you are a teenager, it is normal to contribute to the production of bad poetry. WMMDK isn’t a masterpiece, but there is something beautiful in the way this story is told, dipping into the innocence of adolescence to uncover the honesty of first loves. You won’t find this in Twilight, where 400 pages is devoted to admiring Edward Cullen’s face, or at the movies because everything ends in a “happily ever after.” Not all novels should be realistic, and I suppose I can’t expect one about pretty vampires and werewolves to be convincing, but kids books can still be good. And it’s here where we’re allowed to pushed the limits of our imagination.