I think kids can distinguish fairly early between outrageous unlikely-to-happen or flat-out impossible stuff in books, and more realistic fiction. And some of the outrageous stuff -- like the scary stuff we've written about -- is a direct line to the subconscious. I suspect Eleanor knows that it's highly unlikely that a ten year-old girl can live alone and carry a horse around with one hand. But it's cool. Pippi, like another classic character, the Cat in the Hat, is both funny and attractive because she's so unrestrained, so beyond the rules. And Tommy and Annika, like Sally and her unnamed narrator/brother ("I"), have to process the craziness and still live by their own rules of behavior (e.g., going home to bed every night), even as the crazy one enables them to push the envelope a bit. Tommy and Annika have the internalized parents to help restrain them; Sally and I have a Very Serious goldfish invoking the name of Mother:
But our fish said, "No! No!"
Make that cat go away!Tell that Cat in the HatYou do NOT want to play.He should not be here.He should not be about.He should not be hereWhen you mother is out!"
So there you have it: id and superego, with ego (split into siblings) getting to process it all. And when you're in the thick of the Processing It years of childhood, it's wildly entertaining to watch behavior you're learning not to do.
Not to say that all writing about beyond-the-rules behavior is a good thing. You've got to have good writing and some engaging characters too -- which both Astrid Lindgren and Dr. Seuss provide quite nicely. One of the more love-her-or-hate-her characters in kids' literature these days is
Junie B. Jones, by Barbara Park. She's rude, she has terrible grammar, she rarely learns from her mistakes, and she's in 27 books, which follow her through kindergarten and first grade. I'm in the hate-her camp on this one. But the people who love her, and whose children love her, do so for that titillation of bad behavior. Look, she's more clueless than I am!
And on another Pippi-inspired note, I'd like to point out an excellent post after your previous entry from our own guest blogger Rachel of Even in Australia. Here's the central question, and it's wonderful food for thought and discussion on another day:
So, here's the question - which books do we read to our kids and which do we let them read and discover on their own?I encourage our readers to read the entire comment.