Monday, November 23, 2009

To "see like a child": all it's cracked up to be?

Back on the discussion of long book reviews, Maluose commented that "those of you who think kids are naturally great reviewers have never had to endure any of their blow-by-blow plot summaries. They make most bloggers sound positively terse." Too true. The "book reviews" kids would deliver when I ran a summer reading club a hundred years ago were painful. And those "a kid's review" posts on Amazon might be shorter but they are not very illuminating. (Does anyone know how that tag gets there? I can't imagine a child using it of his or her own volition.)

I was thinking about children's taste on Saturday when I met a friend and his little kids at a local tot lot. The place is incredibly popular because there are lots of toys--scooters, trikes, a play stove, a little house--all made out of that child-safe but phenomenally ugly molded plastic that, my friend tells me, is very expensive. The colors on this stuff manage to be both flat and garish, and the plastic picks up dirt like a magnet. Whoever thought kids had a natural instinct for beauty probably didn't get out much.

Of course, kids with style are a nightmare all their own.


Monica Edinger said...

Left on their own I agree that kids can write horrible reviews, but I do think with a little support (say helping to learn what makes a good review) they can write ones that of interest to adults. This year I've a small group of 6th graders (some of whom were in my 4th grade) reading and writing blog reviews. I took them to Where the Wild Things Are because I couldn't figure out if kids would like it and I thought their reviews were really helpful.

Elissa said...

He looks like a tiny Chuck Bass from the Gossip Girl TV show. (Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about.)

Andy Laties said...

I spent years working with the writing of children: stories, poems, plays and book reviews.

Child authors and reviewers--if their work is to be published or otherwise presented--benefit from editorial intervention and opportunity for revision, just as adults writers do. Peer-group review or collaboraion is viable, for instance. (Sometimes a piece written by "Mrs. Smith's 3rd Grade Class" is delightful.)

If there is to be publication or public presentation of unrevised, unedited children's stories or book reviews, however, it's wise for the publisher/presenter to obtain a very large number of these raw pieces, and then select a small fraction for actual publication: the most delightful.

rockinlibrarian said...

It's been a long time, but I seem to remember a long while back, before I had an Amazon account and was always logged in as me, that I went to post a review and it asked me for my age. I don't know if that's still how it works or not, but it was once, and since no one else has answered your question, I'll chip in!

Anonymous said...

I think the reason why children write such painful reviews is that one of the most important tasks of early childhood is to master details: the difference between a rectangle and a square, or a shark and a whale. Children are masters of the specific, but they find generalizations difficult. There are few things more tedious than listening to children recount the plot of a movie they enjoyed--because they simply don't know what to omit. But their powers of observation are formidable--so yes, I would say to "see as a child" is enviable. What would be best would be to have the child's capacity for keen observation and the adult's faculty of seeing relationship and proportion.

As for children's aesthetics..There seems to be some evidence that children see colors differently than adults do, and want more of it. But the garish toys you speak of have been created by adults, and advertised by adults: by the time a child is two years old, s/he has probably come to associate bright plastic with the whole concept of "toy". I do think, however, that children have an instinctive appreciation for the beauty of animals, trees, water, and fine weather.

Rosanne said...

I agree that children's written book reports tend to be tedious without some help and a lot of practice. I was thinking of what children say when you ask them, not as a teacher but as a fellow reader, what they really think of a book. If you have a child's trust she will sometimes tell you something pithy.

For example, the first HP recommendation I got from a child ten years ago, long before the hype. "It's just like the Chronicles of Narnia, but longer and with troll boogers."

Or "So awesome I forgot it had girls in it!" a 12 year old boy's thoughts on Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher.

Or my current favorite: "Edward Cullen--the Fancy Nancy of vampires."

Fun, to the point, and agenda-free. Book reports and assigned reviews are an entirely different thing.

melanie hope greenberg said...

A 7 tear old saw a poster I illustrated, shrugged his shoulders and said he liked Renoir better. Love it!

Roger Sutton said...

Melanie, to paraphrase Zinka Milanov listening to Aprille Millo, "he sounds like a young me!" And yes, will likely be as insufferable. ;-)

Anonymous said...

That was a funny ribbing of Arlo - the kid with style (or more appropriately, of his parents)!