It's Not Monkey Business: Profound Ideas Populate the Pages of Picture Books

Article excerpt

If by vocation or avocation you've come to cherish children's literature, you've no doubt encountered some skepticism about this particular passion. For too many people, children's books simply don't merit serious consideration. As Seth Lerer aptly observes in his award - winning Children's Literature: A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter, "For a long time, what was not literature was the ephemeral, the popular, the feminine, the childish." Even outside the canon - building environs of literary studies, a youth literature expert can feel fated to reprise Rodney Dangerfield's signature quip: "I get no respect."

Anyone who has listened to children's authors and illustrators speak about their work or has researched the origins of a popular book knows that the complexity and the depth of works for young readers belie the semblance of simplicity that a 32 - page picture book might suggest. To represent the world for children involves skillful choices based on training, research, and lived experience. Entering the lists on the side of children's literature as a reflection of larger cultural concerns is the Jewish Museum in New York City, with its summer exhibition, "Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H. A. Rey."

Strictly speaking, children were not the target audience for the exhibition, with its displays of minutely handwritten diary entries, passenger lists, and editorial correspondence. Adults brought enthusiastic little ones anyway, so the museum rang with exuberant cries of "Monkey! Monkey! Mon-keeee!" and child - style plot summaries whenever the possessor of a piping little voice recognized a visual from these enduring stories.

Colorful images from the Reys' books and a small room full of oversized pillows and picture books notwithstanding, the exhibition was about the political context in which the Reys developed their famed series as well as its youth appeal. …