01 July 2011

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a sucker is born every minute

I make it a general policy not to purposely offend readers. I even try to avoid implying that my opinion is correct and anyone who thinks otherwise is an out and out moron. But I have to confess that I am about to let loose with a full blown rant, and if you happen to disagree with me.......sorry, but I'm right.

Yesterday I read this article in Publisher's Weekly about a new series of board books that will "introduce to the youngest reader....." And let's stop right there. I hate that phrase, because to me, 'introducing to the youngest reader' really translates to 'selling to kids who aren't yet ready to read the real version of this book.' Plus, I am an admitted board book snob. I think babies should have their own books, written with their needs in mind. I don't like board book versions of established picture books, because I feel it is a disservice to both formats and a lazy way to make a buck. The board book version of The Snowy Day, for instance, irks greatly. So imagine how I feel about these:

You know, I could cope with the zombies. But this is an out and out abomination. Let's start with the titles: Little Miss Austen and Little Master Shakespeare. These authors aren't Muppet babies, you know, but the greatest writers in English literature. Show a little respect! There's interpretation, there's parody, there's watered down, and then there is out and out offensive. This begs the question "For the love of God, why?!" The creative director behind the series (and yes, there will be more) says, “We knew there was nothing like it available for the age group, and that the books would be a great introduction to perennial classics both for very small children and parents who might never have read the classics before.”

First of all, there is nothing like it for the age group because it's a stupid idea and unnecessary. Babies are not going to get a classic vibe from the books. There won't be some sort of subconscious love for masterpieces when they are older because they gnawed on the corner of Romeo and Juliet. Nor are they guaranteed a place at Harvard. Better for the parent to read the original out loud while the baby is in utero if that's the plan.

Secondly, the thought that the books might serve as an introduction to the parents is enough to make me throw my hands up in despair. Might as well let the alien invasion begin, because humanity is doomed.

Which leads me to my third gripe. This isn't about what the babies will like, unless there is a mirror attached to the back or a button to push. Let's be honest--babies could care less about Elizabeth and Darcy, and that double suicide at the end of Romeo and Juliet might be a bit much for "the youngest reader". This is about sucking parents into thinking they are doing something healthy and edifying for their babies. Of course reading to babies is healthy and edifying. So why should I care, if the babies don't? To each their own, right? But pre-sales have already passed expectations, and judging by the comments at the end of the article, people do think the books are absolutely adorable (even though I'm right and they are wrong.) Which means that I, as a librarian who likes to think of herself as open-minded and not (gulp!) judgemental, will have to buy these books. As a Janeite that galls me. As a librarian it challenges me. As a lover of the classics it makes me die a little bit inside.

To the babies, I have just this to say: accept no substitutes! Demand your concept books and save the classics for when you are old enough to appreciate them. And to the parents, this: don't kid yourself. You are not introducing your child to anything remotely resembling a masterpiece. All you are doing is perpetrating the delusion that anything can be made accessible to anyone with the right amount of tweaking and modification. It's a lie! Some things should be left as they are to be discovered when the time is right.


Michelle @ The True Book Addict said...

I totally agree. This is going a bit overboard--forgive my pun. I love it..."that double suicide at the end of Romeo and Juliet might be a bit much for 'the youngest reader'"...LOL! I can tell you though, I know just the parents they're targeting so these will no doubt sell like hotcakes. Sad, but true.

JJ LaBarbera said...

I'm with you! Those are just silly. Books aimed at the Hipster parent? You are right. As usual. :)

Spectrum Mom said...

I understand and sympathize and yet I am so, so sorry that I did not think of this first. It's not a new idea of course. Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare was popular a century or two ago and I have a lovely little volume of Shakespeare stories with illustrations of kids in costume from at least fifty years ago. As a Shakespeare scholar and a Janeite my hope is that the kids and parents will at least learn the names! Of course the "Little Miss and Master" concept is utterly nauseating.

lochee lad said...

It strikes me as some sort of a bizarre ploy for parents to claim that there children are well read at a young age! An abomination and shame on anyone who is daft enough to be taken in by it.

Robin said...

Lamb's Tales From Shakespeare (and a book from this century, Shakespeare Stories) at least have a purpose: you can have a child old enough to enjoy going to a Shakespeare play or hearing the story of what happens in a play (the comedies, please), but too young to read the original. I actually read my son some Shakespeare Stories when he was 7 or so and asked me to tell him the story of some of the plays he knew I liked.

But this is absolu-frickin-lutely ridiculous. Even if they'd picked a comedy, rather than, oh, one of the most famous tragic love stories of all time, it would not have been appropriate for a board book.

And the Janeite in me is similarly horrified.


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