by Paula Danziger, published 1998
“I, Amber Brown, don’t get what she means by the paws refreshing…But there are a lot of things grown-ups say that I don’t get.”
If it wasn’t for the notice from the library that Amber Brown is due back, this children’s book would still be sitting on my desk, waiting for me to decide: Is this great literature or not? I must admit, I cannot say yes. But I can say that this children’s book is a great example of the kind of contemporary writing that floods the market today, and that now I understand why I resist these books.
Specifically, I discovered, through Amber Brown, and a few others, that many popular contemporary children’s books are all about…(sound the trumpets) realism. The daily life of a child, with all the ups and downs, is spelled out moment by moment in this genre of children’s literature. Whether it is the Judy Moody series, or Amber Brown, or any of the others, what is sorely lacking is their ability let the reader soar into imagination, to leave behind the daily neurosis of childhood, and enter into magic.
That being said, you might ask why I am including a children’s book like Amber Brown. Well, for one thing, I don’t want Litkidz to be considered old fashioned and out of touch, though it well may be true in the end. For another, Amber Brown is well-written for what it offers. However, most importantly, I think it is helpful for children themselves to begin to glean the difference in their inner experience when they read a ‘reality’ novel versus an imaginative one. It would make a fabulous conversation to help children reflect not on the book itself, but on how it made them feel.
Does this all mean that I think all children’s literature needs to be escapist? Not necessarily. There is something to be said for giving a child a book that reflects their current struggle and gives them someone to identify with. For example, in Amber Brown is Feeling Blue, the struggle is about dealing with divorced parents and trying to please everyone. Perhaps reading about it makes a child feel okay with their own inner issues. But is it a way of avoiding a direct and healing conversation with the child? I don’t know. For now, here’s Amber Brown, and if you are looking for exquisite writing, enchanted visions, and beauty, this is not the book for you. If you are looking for a child psychology placebo, it will do its job.