Monday, June 7, 2010

On Refusing to Condescend

I ran across these words from Jack Prelutsky last night, on what he didn’t like about a lot of children’s poetry from the late 19th and early 20th century:

It was a Victorian tradition, and it had two unfortunate tendencies. One was a sort of greeting-card verse that was sickeningly sweet and condescending and had no literary merit. The other was poetry that was moralistic and pompous; everything had to have a message, and that was condescending, too. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Children aren’t stupid. The main differences between children and adults are that children have had fewer experiences—because they haven’t been around long enough to have as many as we have had—and they are short. Children love to learn. They learn quickly. So I never condescend when I write for children.
--From “In Search of the Addle-pated Paddlepuss”
ed. by William Zinsser, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990

Good stuff. We love Prelutsky’s poetry. I think the best thing about his writing is the fun he has with words—their sounds, their rhythms, their meanings, the images they conjure up. Just think what his poems would be like if he assumed children wouldn’t be able to handle certain words! I’m so glad he refuses to condescend.

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