Richard has gone to the movies tonight with our friend Pam. They're seeing "Tristram Shandy." I stayed home and watched a rerun of "Will and Grace," the one about the hydro-bra. I'm interested in how children's book people negotiate differences in taste--not just with their loved ones, but with their colleagues and with the young people they serve, either as individuals or in the aggregate, in a day to day situation or in the abstract or at a remove.
Although I'm only sporadically (or subliminally!) aware of this negotiation, it's going on all the time. Magazine exec. editor Martha or Kitty, her opposite number at the Guide, and I regularly disagree about books: how do we decide what the "Horn Book opinion" will be? Similarly, all our reviewers have their own considered opinions. And the result? It seems to go a different way with each book, which is good.
While this kind of book debate goes on in many contexts, I think what's most interesting about the children's books community is that we are having our debates on behalf of someone else: the child reader, either on the other side of the desk at our teacher and librarian jobs, across the dinner table at home, or as an imagined or projected audience. We're always negotiating the difference between what we like and what they like (or in the happy instance where professional and child audience are in agreement, between how we like a book and how it is enjoyed by the young.)
Maybe, though, we are only ostensibly mediating the distinction between children and ourselves. Maybe we are always reading (or writing) for ourselves. The child-as-other idea, God knows, is fraught with problems literary, educational, and political. I believe that children read for the same reasons adults do (and both groups, of course, are made up of distinct individuals). But woe betide us (meaning those who take part in bringing children and books together) if we forget the stewardly nature of our work.