My good friend and fellow reader Sue McIntyre reviews Wonderstruck here and asks the question about both the new book and the Invention of Hugh Cabret: how responsible is it for books to propose that kids could run away or go off on their own like that and survive perfectly well when the worlds they inhabit aren’t exactly fantasy.
I remember worrying about the same thing many years ago when I gave a friend’s nine-year-old a copy of The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Was I encouraging her to run away from home? In the end, I decided the book had been read by millions of children and none I’d heard of had since run off to the Met, so we were probably safe.
Since then both my kids have loved Frankweiler’s book (we took our own Frankweiler inspired tour of the Met a few years back and it was magical) as well as books like The Boxcar Children and Bud Not Buddy, where kids in a seemingly realistic world nonetheless manage to create a child-based kingdom sans adults. These books follow a very important children’s book creed, albeit in the extreme: Children must be at the center of children’s stories, solving their own problems. I think it give children a sense of power in a world in which they normally have very little and a sense of exhileration. At least, I remember having those feelings when I read Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and the Boxcar Children as a child. In fact, I spent a lot of time in my closet back then, pretending it was my own little boxcar, complete with an imaginary chipped pink cup. I seemed to understand–I think most children do–that these books were in fact, a kind of fantasy wrapped in reality that we weren’t intended to follow.
What do you think?