Monday, January 21, 2019

On Disney Movies, Juvenile Fiction, and the Child in All of Us

Who doesn't love Disney?

Okay, I know there are people. I'm just never going to understand them. A lot of non-Disney geeks seem to think Disney World is for kids. A lot of adults don't want to watch animated movies anymore. And even more adults don't read children's books anymore. There was a patron at the library a month or two ago who just couldn't fathom why I still read lots of juvenile fiction. But there's just something about it that's so much more wonderful than a lot of adult books.

I started thinking about this because last week I was making music note paper flowers for a good friend's sweet sixteen, while watching Frozen. In my room, by myself, after listening to the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack. I'd wanted to watch the animated Beauty and the Beast, but it isn't on Netflix right now, and I didn't feel like hunting it up when Frozen was right there. Frozen...which I love enough that the library youth coordinator and I are planning a Frozen party at the library in a few weeks.

I've also been watching Veggie Tales again. No, we don't have any little kids in the house and I rarely babysit anymore, but I still love Veggie Tales. They're great.

My family is watching A Series of Unfortunate Events...based on a children's book series I finished reading just a year ago as an adult.

I reread several Madeleine L'Engle books last year...children's books.

My love for Narnia will never fade.

The other day, someone turned in The Witch of Blackbird Pond and I took it with me on my break to reread some of my favorite parts.

Why do I love children's books, children's movies, even children's rides? (Yes, I like Fantasyland. It's awesome.) Part of it is nostalgia. Veggie Tales makes me think of being a kid. So do certain Disney movies. But that's not the case for all of them. I didn't see Beauty and the Beast until I was twelve and a half (stupid Disney vault). I didn't read A Series of Unfortunate Events until I was an adult. Frozen didn't even come out until I was seventeen. So why do I unapologetically love things meant for children? I think C. S. Lewis said it best:

"It is usual to speak in a playfully apologetic tone about one’s adult enjoyment of what are called ‘children’s books’. I think the convention a silly one. No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty–except, of course, books of information. The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better not to have read at all. A mature palate will probably not much care for crême de menthe: but it ought still to enjoy bread and butter and honey."
I honestly get so much more out of A Wrinkle in Time now than I did when I first read it at seven. Same with Narnia. They're just as much worth reading now as they were when I was a kid.

What is it about things of childhood? One thing I love is the innocence. It's for children, it's not likely to have a lot of junk in it. Little House is so refreshing in that way, as I discovered when I reread the Caroline books at age 16.

I love the wonder. The imagination. The beauty of life, not clouded by the cynicism of adulthood. Not that there aren't adversaries. I mean, my favorite childhood stories are grand battles of good vs. evil. But there's such hope and beauty in it.

I've found that children's books actually deal with some pretty deep subjects. The best ones do, anyway. Children don't like being talked down to, and they have a much greater capacity for understanding things than people give them credit for. That's why the authors who understand that when they write for children write books that appeal to all ages. And that childhood wonder and open-mindedness and thirst for new information makes them more open to the hard subjects than adults are. I like what Madeleine L'Engle said on the subject:

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” 
Kids get it. And the grown-ups in touch with their inner child do as well.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is about a magical land cursed by a witch to be always winter and never Christmas, the children who are prophesied to come, and the Great Lion who sacrifices himself for them and is resurrected.

A Wrinkle in Time is about fighting the evil in the universe and realizing that we are all created different from each other for a reason, and that love conquers all.

Beauty and the Beast is about how it's what's on the inside that counts, that what matters is that you have a kind heart willing to sacrifice your own wishes for those you love.

Veggie Tales, well, it's about Bible stories acted out by talking vegetables. Y'know, the king wants someone else's rubber ducky; Rack, Shack, and Benny are going to be thrown in the fiery furnace for not bowing down and singing "The Bunny Song" to the giant chocolate bunny. That sort of thing.

Yes, sometimes children's stories are sometimes a little silly (who doesn't like "Oh, Where Is My Hairbrush?" though?), but if you look to the heart of them, there's something there for all of us. No matter how young we are, no matter how old we get. The children's stories that matter will endure. 
That depth, that wonder, that imagination, that is why I still read children's books, watch animated movies, and sing Disney songs. That's why I write children's books that are really for everyone. Because I'll always love them, and I know there are plenty of people out there who do too, whether they'll admit it or not.

Besides, who doesn't want the forest animals to come help them clean the house?

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