This week’s Tablet magazine column is about two children’s picture books about the Holocaust that feature kitties. One I think is superb. One I think is EXTREMELY NOT. (And I’m not sure how I feel about the notion of Holocaust kitty books as a genre.) Anyway, in this column I delve into the pedagogical, literary, moral and developmental reasons why I thought one book worked and the other didn’t. Regardless, I am pro-kitty.
Side note: I feel a little sick dissing Benno. I know a writer worked very hard on it. (And damn, the art is great.) It is important to note that it got some great reviews, so mileage clearly varies. But I also think that when we don’t talk about why we dislike books, we do readers and parents a disservice. There’s an opportunity for a valuable discussion — in this case, about how we teach the Holocaust to our youngest readers, and whether we do so at all — that we abdicate if we only review books we love. I don’t think we gotta go all Joe Queenan, spewing the venom for entertainment value (and misrepresenting the books we review to get attention and laughs) but I do think there’s value in talking about books we don’t like. I do not believe there’s a “cult of niceness” that prevents women from being tough critics, but I do think a lot of us think thusly: Hey, we have limited space and limited reader attention; let’s talk about books we think are kick-ass and want everyone to read. Why waste pixels on books we think are eh?
I get that. But it can be as instructive to talk about why we dislike something as why we like something, so maybe we should see it as part of our job to steer our fellow readers and their spawn away from things.
I’m typing all this because I feel guilty. You probably figured that out.