Mighty PEN (Part Three)
(CONTINUED FROM PART TWO)
It all got me to thinking too. I mean, what do we consider "lying" in fiction? Remember the anger that was lobbied against The Boy in the Striped Pajamas? Were people mad because they felt that the whole fable aspect wasn’t a delightful trope but, instead, a very painful lie? How can an author tell the difference?
All this segued so nicely into Bartoletti’s comments on how this all applies to non-fiction. She pointed out that in the 90s, protagonists in works of non-fiction books about labor were passive (think kids in mills) while in books like Lyddie they were active. Her desire behind her book Kids On Strike was show real kids in real life "actually with an agency" that belied the old stereotype. Now here’s where Kuklin, who has been moderating the entire evening with aplomb, really gets clever. She ties these statements of Bartoletti into Lipsyte’s earlier statement that his books show "all the warts." He noted that not ALL the warts appear in his books. That wouldn’t make it children’s literature, after all. But sure enough a book like Heroes of Baseball displays the ugly side of baseball "heroes". Says Lipsyte about the book, you need to show enough about what is goood and enough of what is bad about these characters. Let the kids draw their own conclusions. He went on to say that he enjoyed Hitler Youth because it dared to make you think to yourself, "Would I have been a Hitler Youth?"
The evening could have been considered interesting from a YA perspective alone. First of all, consider Robert Lipsyte. Since YA fiction finds its roots in a variety of different titles, you can’t necessarily call Lipsyte’s The Contender the first of its kind. Still, there’s no denying that the man must be credited as one of the founders. At the same time the audience around me appeared to be filled with David Levithan’s New School students here on a field trip. So when Lipsyte started to tear into the more chick lit-ish aspects of some YA books (emphasis and word itself my own) I was amazed to see the Levithanians did not rise as one or, at the very least, offer some kind of response to the idea.
At the end some questions were taken from the audience. Smart questions too. One man asked about how authors deal with the elimination of additional dimensions in children’s works. This lead to a discussion of editing vs. censorship. Another person brought up children’s films and I was delighted to see Ms. Williams say that movies for kids definitely have less honesty than books. And when Bartoletti mentioned how books have a much wider subject range, it got me to thinking. Maybe this accounts for the popularity of book trailers. When you live in a time period where realistic children’s books get filmed only when you drop in CGI elements (Bridge to Terabithia) or when you film them for television (Pictures of Hollis Woods) then you see instantly how limited they are, compared to books.
By the end I was well satisfied. I’ll be watching PEN for even more upcoming events in the future. Hopefully I’ll get to see how all of this applies to the books I read and review close at hand.
For the podcast of Dreadful Lies/Peculiar Truths
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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