Wednesday, July 16, 2008

E.B. White and the Angry Librarian

The newest issue of THE NEW YORKER, the one with the controversial cover of Barak and Michelle Obama, has more than current controversy to recommend it. There's an excellent article on an older controversy, over E.B. White's 1945 children's book, STUART LITTLE. When that classic was published, Anne Carroll Moore, an enormously influential NYC librarian who essentially started the concept of allowing kids into libraries at all, hated the book. She said it would be bad for kids. It would blur the distinction for them between fantasy and reality, what with Stuart being a mouse who dressed and talked and acted like an adult man. She said STUART LITTLE must have been written by a sick mind.

Moore didn't like E.B. White's other kids' book, either, CHARLOTTE'S WEB. She said the character of Fern "was never developed." (Everybody's a critic.)

But kids loved both books, and STUART LITTLE has now sold more than 4 million copies. Kids like "sick." When my son Kevin was four, his favorite books to have read to him were those by Maurice Sendak. He liked the ferocious WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, in which a boy turns feral and threatens to eat his parents, but he preferred the even more ferocious IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN, loaded with genuine weirdness. The original TALES OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM were bloody and vengeful (Cinderella's mean step-sisters are punished by being sealed into a cask with nails protruding inside and rolled down a hill.) I read these when I was a child, along with Hans Christian Anderson's mournful and terrifying stories, and somehow emerged able to tell reality from fantasy.

Although.... I am an SF writer. Maybe there were lingering effects, after all.


Paul Boccaccio said...

I'm a lurker (found you through another writer's blog), but I thought of this and had to share it:

The mouse menace is more prevalent than we thought, apparently.

Nancy Kress said...

That's wonderful, Paul -- thank you!