Sunday, June 13, 2010

Thoughtful Children's Books in the Internet Era

In a fascinating article for The Atlantic entitled, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?", author Nicholas Carr, using anecdotes and neurobiology, argues that the Internet is remapping our brains, making us adept at skimming through vast quantities of information, but making it difficult to delve deeply into subjects and allow space for true insight. As he puts it:
"My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski."
The premise of Carr's article (and recently released book) is compelling, and I find myself wanting to agree with him. When I was a (only)child I spent much time alone, climbing trees, daydreaming, and thinking a lot. I attribute these activities to making me the thoughtful (if not slightly neurotic) person I am today. But what about today's children? Is it possible to become a person of depth while being bedazzled by Tweets from such an early age? Is there any room for contemplation in the modern child's stimulus inundated life?

Since I first picked it up at 6 years old, The Giving Tree has been my favorite picture book. Among other things, The Giving Tree asks you to consider abstract ideas like time. It's a quiet book, yet beneath its subtly lay many complex issues and unanswered questions. Would a book like this sell anymore?

At the Austin SCBWI conference I attended this winter, a Bloomsbury editor came on stage and told us they're looking for "Funny, energetic picture books." Certainly The Giving Tree would not fit this category, not even perennial classics like Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny, or Where the Wild Things Are. A large part of me is offended that nowadays books like these could be passed by publishers in favor of a loud, obnoxious pigeon -- but perhaps I'm just a grumpy old man, wrapped up in nostalgia and afraid of change. One thing for certain though: Our technology is affecting the way we see and relate to the world, and it's changing all fields, children's books included.


  1. I sure as hell hope those kind of books still sell, or how are you gunna buy me a Mercedes and McMansion and support our 12 children?

    seriously though, I just saw Idiocracy and it's kind of disturbing how close it hits to home.

  2. While I see your point, I think the downturn in the market and instability in the publishing world may have more to do with it. It is possibly a greater financial risk for publishers to take on a "quite" book verses something that full of jokes. However, I truly feel that if it is a good book someone will want to publish it. You keep writing from your heart Dallion, it is amazing!

  3. Allison: Only 12?

    Marsha: You're right, the turmoil in the publishing would has much to do with it. But hasn't this turmoil been primarily caused by our new technology? If technology can so easily turn the entrenched publishing industry upside down, it's not hard to believe it will also shape our taste in literature. But perhaps trying to anticipate HOW it will change us is a mug's game. I think you're right, the best bet is to simply write from your heart!

    Everyone: I should add that not everyone agrees that the internet is making us stupid and shallow. Jonah Lehrer wrote a critical review of Nicholas Carr's book for the New York Times, and the debate continues on his blog.