Have you heard the one about the university that made light of children’s literature and how a whole bunch of affronted adults lost their shit on Twitter trying to convince the university that children’s literature actually is literature and shouldn’t be belittled? It’s a pretty funny story (especially UniKentCW’s early response to the outrage) and you can catch up on the whole thing here. As I read about it, I realized I have something to say to both parties involved. Not that anyone from either party will bother to listen. But they should.
First off, if you’re one of those grown-ups, like those grown-ups at Kent University, who doesn’t take children’s literature seriously—then, please, don’t start now. We actually need fewer adults taking children’s books seriously. Because you don’t know what to make of artforms intended for you, so how much more clueless would you be about an artform intended for children? If for some reason you were to take children’s literature seriously, you’d just start misinterpreting and projecting your own agenda onto it, and we’d end up with even more didacticism and boring-ass children’s books than we have already (which is A LOT), and we’d lose even more children than we already do to other artforms. Because here’s the thing: children’s books are not on trial here, and they certainly don’t need approval from the likes of you. It’s the other way around: you need to prove your worth to children’s books—the good ones at least. I know that sounds strange, even ridiculous, but that’s because you’ve fancied yourself a grown-up for far too long and you’ve let yourself be swayed by the misguided ideas of other so-called grown-ups, all of whom can’t face the fact that inside they’re still just scared little kids. So, despite what some well-meaning adults in the children’s book industry (who are merely acting on their own feelings of inadequacy) say, please, just continue to focus on whatever trifles you’ve chosen to distract yourself with and stay the hell away from children’s books. Okay?
Now, to those lovers of children’s literature who are “appalled” that there actually exist other adults who don’t take this literature seriously: the fact that you care belies your own inferiority. You’ve lost your argument before it even began! In short, you’re suffering from ressentiment, and as long as you’re unconscious to that fact, you’re going to give other people your power and you will let them make you feel inferior. I’ll say it again: you are letting someone else make you feel inferior because you haven’t dealt with your ressentiment.
Imagine for a moment what might happen if some other university wrote the opposite of what Kent University wrote. Let’s say this university made a comment about children’s books being the only kind of literature worth studying and that students in their program wouldn’t waste time writing literary adult fiction? There would be no moral outrage, no sputtering denials, no reasoned arguments even. Everyone would simply laugh in their face, and few would enroll at that school, etc. And, of course, that’s the way it should be. Adults know their literature is important and they harbor no secret shame because of it. If someone challenges that notion, it’s an easy thing to laugh off, because they know it says more about the lack of intelligence in the person (or institution) making the accusation than it says about them.
But look at folks in the children’s book industry. The moment someone denigrates them in the slightest—like, say, Martin Amis—all that secret shame they’ve buried rises to the surface and their ressentiment kicks in. The only way to get the shame back down again is to badger the offending party into saying, “Just kidding! Children’s books really are important!” and then once again all is right with the world. If only they dealt with their shame and ressentiment in the first place, as any healthy adult should, then their sense of well-being wouldn’t depend on outside forces. Their power would generate from within. They simply wouldn’t care if their peers belittled something they believed in.
In the end, it’s all just a bunch of adult bullshit that children couldn’t care less about. But that won’t stop adults from trying their damnedest to convince the world that everyone needs to accept children’s literature as valid and worthy of serious attention, which is just another way of saying, “Please accept me as valid and worthy of attention.” But if you have to beg for validation, do you deserve it?