Harriet the Spy. Encyclopedia Brown. Meg and brother Charles Wallace, Ramona, Beezus, Pippi, and that My Side of the Mountain Kid (what WAS his name?). They all shared something other than spunk.
Freedom of movement was a given in mid-century children’s literature. Of course the kids starring in books did more than most of their human peers. They solved crimes, befriended beavers, saved parents stuck in other dimensions. But the NORMAL stuff they did — hopping on their bikes, walking into town, playing outside — THAT has become almost as mythic as the ability to fly or cast spells.
Over at Let Grow today I’ve re-published an essay by a Free-Range fan about how strange it felt to read A Pocketful of Cricket to her son…knowing he would not be growing up in an era affording him anything like the freedom she’d had as a kid.
You know, it is sad to write that, but it is also infuriating. There is no REALITY-based reason kids today can’t be part of the world that is so interesting — that is theirs. Our culture seems to think nothing of depriving the people we ostensibly love the most — children — of the chance to be fully alive when they are young. Having adventures. Meeting crickets. Making some memories when something goes totally wrong or totally right.
We say we can’t let them have the freedom their parents and grandparents had because we are trying to keep them safe. But this relentless focus on safety only makes sense if we are talking about a Rembrandt. Might was well keep it safe in a dimly lit, temperature-controlled room. There’s no upside to it being outside. All it can do is get hurt.
Our culture persists in thinking about kids as Rembrandts, not Ramonas, Harriets, Pippis or Encyclopedia Browns. We have lost our minds.
So go check out that beautiful essay on children’s lit at Let Grow. And then tell me some new ideas for unlocking the vision/prison of perfect safety called modern childhood. You can always post a comment here, or write to me: [email protected] .