Defining Art in Children’s Literature
Children’s literature comes in many shapes and forms, but one thing that all genres and types have in common is the fact that children are a part of the audience, whether it is intended or not. To many, art is a word that describes something that is visually pleasing, but in terms of children’s literature, it is a word that describes when a certain feeling is evoked by the literary work. The definition of art in children’s literature encompasses three main attributes; it inspires one to expand their mind and make mental connections, it transcends age groups and cultures, and it also effectively uses pathos to resonate with all types of readers. It seems most logical to exemplify these criterions within the realm of children’s poetry because, “poetry is often the first literature presented to a child, in the form of nursery rhymes or lullabies. Offering lyrical appeal and short, direct themes, these kinds of poetic verse are viewed as transitional works which prepare developing minds for longer forms of literature” (Children’s Poetry pp 1). Art in children’s literature, poetry in specific, is characterized by its ability to move the audience, no matter what the age. Shel Silverstein’s poetry perfectly depicts these attributes and will be used to give an even more in depth definition of art within children’s literature.
When defining what constitutes a work of art in children’s literature, one must first take the time to explore the definition of children’s literature. Part of the difficulty with determining what constitutes children's literature is that there is some debate as to what children are. After all, different cultures have at times believed many different things about children. However, this is exactly the point; childhood is viewed differently by different cultures. It is then a cultural definition, one in which societies can answer and change. Certainly it is difficult for people to accept this idea, and for many, the idea that the culture determines someone’s role is tantamount to prejudice, however, when it comes to defining a state and an impact, cultural variables are indeed a determining factor. It is culture which determines the role literature plays in lives, so it is through a culture’s definition of something that yields a definition.
The first poem by Silverstein that shows qualities of art is entitled “Invitation” and is within his poetry anthology entitled, “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” It’s words are as follows: “If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire, for we have some flax golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!” (9). Although this may just seem like a poetic introduction to his anthology, when one digs a little deeper, they may see the true beauty in this short sentiment. Sadly, this ways of the world seem to constantly try to strip away the creativity of its inhabitants; not only just for children, but also for adults. Society seems to measure success by status and money; but with works such as “Invitation”, the world is reminded that imagination prevails. If imagination is not supported, all creativity will be stopped. If all creativity is stopped, the world would cease to exist as it is because the possibility for new ideas and innovations would be gone. This transcends cultures and age groups because the smallest of children needs to be reminded that the things that exist in their head are just as much reality as the things physically seen on a day to day basis, because people create their own realities. Adults also need a constant reminder of this because it is likely that the ways of the world have long affected them, moreover; to be reminded of the power of their imagination will always serve a great purpose. Silverstein pushes the normal limits of poetry; that its purpose is like that of “spinach”, good for you,…