24 August 2011

Jane Yolen: “The children don’t care about the politicians”

The Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin, just ran an interview with author Jane Yolen, prompted by her response to news that Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) had read a picture book she wrote at a public appearance. She expressed a hope that politicians like him would do more than just read to children while the cameras are on—that they would recognize the value and virtue of funding libraries, for instance.

Though Yolen is quite clear on her dislike and distrust of the “Tea Party” movement that (with his employer’s money) helped elect Johnson over Russ Feingold, I think it’s notable that she avoids easy potshots at the man’s approach to children’s literature:
CT: Did he seem to understand the moral of your story about the dinosaur correctly? (In my article I quote him telling children that they will make their parents very happy by following the "lessons" the dinosaur teaches them about cleaning up after themselves, putting their toys in neat rows, and not shoving dirty laundry to the back of drawers.)

JY: It is a book that is not just about manners, but as they say in Britain is also taking the micky out of regular manners books. The dinos in the books are really children who can be naughty and natural and charming at one and the same time. And their parents who still love them even when they have their moments of outrageousness.

CT: Is it exciting when celebrities or politicians read your books like this? Which others have done so?

JY: Not exciting at all. I'd rather the parents were reading to the children. Or the librarian. The children don't care about the politicians. . . .

CT: The senator said that he read "Curious George" books to his three children except that when his son [Johnson’s first two children were daughters] was four or five he started reading him the Wall Street Journal. Any comment about what could happen to a four-or five-year-old child raised on the Wall Street Journal?

JY: My youngest child's favorite book at that age was "Peterson's Bird Guide." Bird-watching with his father was his most passionate interest at the time. If you have a struggling reader, you go where the child is, not push books on them in which they have no interest. He's still a passionate birder and now an award-winning nature photographer.
Of course, that generous perspective was lost on some in the right wing, who can’t abide any criticism.

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