I get this definition the most when first asking students to define children’s literature. We all have that one book. THE story. Often we share this passion in a multi-generational gestalt. /That’s the essence of children’s literature. Each of us gets to define what counts as “literature” in the children’s book genre, and because of this no one has the right to define it for someone else. Yet through this chaos a consensus forms and we come to recognize the art of storytelling. Some stories will endure, most will be lost to time. Voices are amplified, and social practices are reinforced. Other voices are also lost to time. The canon that emerges from consensus reflects our society, good and bad.
That’s Children’s Literature
The last new book I read that fits my definition of children’s literature (and I read a lot of kids’ book) occurred at the SparkLab at the National Museum of American History. At the table they had a turn table, a mixing board with a few simple fades, and audio inputs for your own device.
Sitting there on the table. Overlooking the Deejay booth stood a copy of When the Beat Was Born.
The book tells the tale of DJ Kool Herc and the history of hip hop. The biography begins with Clive Campbell’s journey from Jamaica to the rise of hip hop in the Bronx. Laban Carrick Hill recreates history through vivid language. The images drawn by Theodore Taylor III bring the book to life while also capturing the Black Aesthetic.
The book was a lot better than the beats my kids dropped but the whole experience reminded me of how children’s literature should be taught: interest driven, production based, with a lot of awesome books standing by, pointing the way.