“Kidlit” – The Debate Continues
The other day I celebrated my blog’s fifth birthday and folks were kind enough to lend me some happy wishes. Over the next day or two, though, I started hearing odd murmurs about something I’d mentioned off-hand. You see, as part of the piece I linked to my very first blog post. That post uses the term “kidlit” at one point. As such, I followed up the selection by mentioning:
And I learned fairly fast not to use the term “kiddie lit” or even “kid lit” ever again.
Okay. Not technically true. After all, we don’t call them Literary Youth Drinking Engagements here in town. We call ’em Kidlit Drink Nights. So I do use the word once in a while for sport.
But why would I say that I learned fairly fast not to use the term in the first place? Well, let’s put this into a bit of context. The term “kidlit” has two uses at this point in time. Historically, in the academic field the term “kid lit” or “kiddie lit” is seen as a derogatory term. It tends to be used when someone wishes to downplay the importance of the genre. Calling the books “juvenile” is very much the same. As such, professors and academics of children’s literature have eschewed the term and are sometimes quite hostile to it. You would be too if your colleagues kept asking you why you didn’t dedicate your life to “real” literature. It’s the same problem children’s and YA authors face when their friends ask them when they’re going to start writing “real” (a.k.a. adult) books.
Fast forward in time and the children’s literary bloggers show up. They haven’t been writing articles for Children’s Literature in Education for years on end and are entirely unaware of this perception of the word. As such, they notice that it is a nice succinct term. “Kidlit”. Two syllables. Easy to blog. Easy to tweet. “Kiddie Lit” is sometimes used, but I think you can see the problems with any term that uses the word “kiddie” in it.
Knowing all this as I do, why do I call my drink nights Kidlit Drink Nights? Rolls off the tongue nicely. Also, my contacts in the academic field are few and far between. Obviously if I were to present a paper at the Children’s Literature Association Conference I would keep from using the term, but since it’s now been embraced by a new community of readers I see no problems in using it judiciously. Just so long as its used in the right context at the right time.
On the Yahoo Kidlitosphere Group the discussion took off with lots of varying opinions. Many good points were made. Yet I think I was most taken by this note by one particular commenter (whose name I shall withhold, if only because she didn’t give me permission to use it here, but I still think she makes an incredibly valid point):
Do I think that “kid lit” can be recovered from its use as an insult? Yes.
But I think when discussing this, please remember, the dismissing of the
field of children’s literature and children’s books means this is the term
used, in a dismissive manner, for years & years when:
Universities don’t include Children’s Literature as a field of study, for
bachelors, masters, doctorates
Children’s Lit courses are included only in classes for people who will be
teachers, not as part of the English department
Students are advised not to concentrate in this area
Tenure and hiring decisions are made based the specialty being “kid lit”
Mainstream media does not cover children’s books with the same depth or
frequency as adult books
Children’s books are viewed not as literature but as means to
Oh, and outside MFA’s that specialize in this area (Vermont, for instance),
the treatment of those who want to write for children in writing
I couldn’t have put it better. In response Anastasia Suen suggests that using the hashtag #bfyr (Books for Younger Readers) might be preferable to #kidlit. Maybe so. All I know is that it’s good to have a feel for the history of a term if you’re going to embrace it fully. Kidlit has come into its own over the years, but it’s always a good idea just to know where it previously resided before we ambled along and made it ours.
Note: For more on this topic be sure to listen to the Katie Davis podcast. It covers this debate (ain’t she timely?) and gets thoughts from other folks as well.
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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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