Film Sparks Discussion of Children’s Lit at Askwith ForumBy Jill Anderson
The value of children’s literature in our society was examined by a panel of experts ― including creators of the new documentary Library of the Early Mind and several prominent children’s book authors ― at the Askwith Forum on October 21.
“People read books when they are kids, then read the books to their kids but have given up on the idea that children’s books are important for the average person,” said Steven Withrow, coproducer of the film.
Library of the Early Mind, directed and co-produced by Withrow and Edward Delaney, examines the power of children’s literature through the eyes of authors who create it and highlights the stories behind many popular books including Heather Has Two Mommies, Rotten Ralph, and Imogene’s Antlers. Following a screening of the film, Delaney and Withrow were joined by children’s book authors and illustrators Lois Lowry, LeslÃ©a Newman, Jerry Pinkney, and Padma Venkatraman, and children’s book editor Roger Sutton to reflect on the film and children’s literature today.
The panelists, who are also featured in the film, said they were moved by the film’s ability to capture both the essence of writing such books and the impact of reading them.
“I was a wealthier person by experiencing this,” Pinkney said. “It put the spotlight on the importance of experiences and being able to tell those experiences in the form of children’s literature. All of these ideas mesh together and it becomes this wonderful, rich, story-telling experience.”
The panelists acknowledged the world is becoming more fast-paced and focused on digital media, and that children are often forced into adulthood at earlier. However, they said that this doesn’t impact their writing. “If I fall into that mindset then we aren’t doing our jobs,” Pinkney said. “Our job is to tell stories from the heart.”
A teacher in the audience asked the panel about a recent New York Times article, which declared the picture book dead, and how to respond to parents seriously questioning whether to skip picture books in favor of other materials.
“At first it took the wind out of my sails,” Pinkney admitted, noting that he has spent some time reflecting on the article. “But I thought about the silver lining in things … It gives us an opportunity to talk about the importance of the picture book.”
Sutton expressed dismay that parents might redirect children away from pictures books, adding that there is an importance to a good picture book that a child can pick up time and time again always finding something new to look at and think about. He noted that publishers recognize the power of a good picture book and he foresees them continuing to be published. Or, as Newman said, “As long as there are grandparents there will be more.”
Withrow sees this film as an opportunity to change perceptions. “We knew already there was a passionate inner circle of people – librarians, teachers, university professors – who upheld children’s literature but also realized there was a whole vast crowd of people who aren’t quite giving children’s book their due,” he said. “We really wanted to get the film to that audience as well.”