of the Center for Children's Books
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Literary Vacations: A Wish List
It's summer, and that's the time for vacations. This isn't a piece about reading on vacation--there are plenty of those--but a wish list of ten literary devices, elements, plots, and even promotion we think are ready for some time off. Some are fads that have outstayed their welcome, some are worthy but overused directions, some are tendencies that should generally have been resisted, but they would all benefit (as would we) if they took some time off. Works in progress, please, please note.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
Physical descriptions that take place when a character looks into a mirror and reports on the face she or he sees looking back. This device has all the freshness of “And then I woke up and found it was all a dream,” yet it won't stop coming
Talk of the Town
Journals, either print or electronic, being inadvertently or maliciously revealed to the world at large. It's a device with resonance, since nobody wants private thoughts to be made public (especially to the people those thoughts concern), but that's led to its becoming more ubiquitous than Paris Hilton's phone number.
Bad News Books
An unlikely crew of motley athletes turning into an effective team under the coaching of a colorful/spiritual outsider. This one was a movie favorite for years and then overflowed its boundaries into literature. It's time to dam it back up again.
Hemingway Is Dead
Strings of one sentence paragraphs.
Enough for awhile.
If you would be so kind.
Fart for Fart's Sake
Farts as the totality of the joke. While the recent breaking, if you will, of anal silence in children's literature has resulted in some amusing material, the deluge of windy plotlines has meant that the taboo is now comprehensively shattered. Farts now need to learn to work in cooperation towards a shared literary end rather than trying to grab the limelight.
The Girl Who Would Be Queen
Seventh graders who want to be It girls. All the It Girl spots have now been taken, there's no more room, so don't even try.
Everything Old Is New Again
Novels in the form of electronic communication or verse that insist that that's enough to make them new or original. This isn't a plea that those kind of novels must take a vacation, just that they abandon the mistaken belief that this is ground-breaking. It's still a centuries-old genre even if the book spells the word “you” “u” or has really ragged right margins; please ensure it has something beyond that to offer.
Boys and Girls Together
A girl who wants to break boundaries by playing on the boys' team. Yes, we know that athletics are still far from egalitarian. Yes, we know that she's plucky and the other team members resent her. She still needs to sit the season out. [Special exemption in this category for nonfiction]
Gently Smiling Jaws
Pictured animals in nonfiction titles drafted so as to smile. Nonfiction should convey what animals actually do; it's rather counterproductive to make them into people with animal masks in the illustrations.
If They Asked Me, I Could Write a Book
First-person narrations that use a school or therapy assignment as an explanation for the existence of the story. It's in a book--we don't need a further reason for its existence.
Of course, we'll maintain usual standards of civility even if holidays aren't arranged. But these are hard-working literary tropes, and it's time to give them a stay on a sandy beach with a cool drink, enviously watching the partying of the exhausted adult literary devices and dreaming about starting a new life in paradise. Bon voyage!
Deborah Stevenson, Editor
This page was last updated on August 1, 2005.