The Wilderness of Children’s Literature

“Let the wild rumpus start!” 

– Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

What is children’s literature right now? Is it vile and dangerous?  Is it something that adults shouldn’t even be reading at all?

I don’t want to tell you about what you should and shouldn’t read. But what I will do is this. 

I will support you in making choices, and I will help you to make those choices, and I will help you to understand those choices. 

And I will stand where I am right now, on the ragged edge, and tell you about the wilderness that exists in children’s literature and why I am glad it is there. 

You find the wilderness in the moment which holds your heart still for an entire page. The moment when the author goes there, right there, and then goes that little bit further until suddenly you realise that you can’t see the word for the tears that are falling down your face. That’s the wilderness, right there, right then. That’s the moment where somebody acknowledges how wild, untamed and how uncontrollable childhood can be.

Teenage life can be full of such terror, and that terror has a right to be understood and explored.

The books that live in the wilderness make their own space in the world, hanging on the edge of textual conformity and stylistics, for they are strong wild creatures. Poetic, vivid, acute, heartbreaking. Brilliant, too. 

They matter, these wild untameable books. 

And so do you. 

You can’t navigate the wilderness without knowing who and what you are. And that’s something I believe in, I believe in choice. I believe in readers knowing who they are, why they react to something, and trusting their own judgement. I believe in empowerment. I believe in strength. I believe in literacy opening the door to the world.

But what if you don’t? 

What if you’re lost in the wilderness and can’t see the way out?

Well, my pledge to you is this: I will cut down the grass when it grows too high. I will take your hand and show you how to escape. I will bring you food and water, and I will sit with you and I will stay. I will weed the ground around you, and tear down the undergrowth when it grows too big, and I will help you to the other side.

I believe in the wilderness, yes, but I also believe in being able to stand in it, and being able to see the light beyond it. 

I believe in you. 

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