My daughter and her good friend have penned a poem called The Gluecaps. It is a devilish little urchin of a rhyme – all patchworked aprons and ratty fingernails and whispered fright.
And I’m going to share it with you now because it makes me think of an article that ran in the Wall Street Journal a while back, in which a very silly woman wrote an…impolitic rant about how children’s books are “too dark”.
“Too dark?” people asked. “Really?” The twitterverse and blogosphere summarily exploded, and many people said some smart things and many more people said some misguided things and various wagons were circled and various lines were drawn in the sand.
But no one really talked about kids. Nobody talked about the darkness that they explore every dang day in their imaginative play.
Here’s the thing: my house, on any given day, is overrun with friggin’ children. And I love them all desperately. There are twelve year old children and nine year old children and hordes and hordes of seven year old boys. And I listen to them all the time. I pay attention to the language of their play and the language of their imagination, and you know what? These kids are darker and creepier and far more sinister than anything that you will find on display of a Barnes & Noble or on any possibly-pinko-commie librarian’s do-gooder shelves. In their imaginations, villains lurk under the stairs, assassins hide behind shower curtains, and tentacled monsters slurp along the basement floor. For these kids, war is a way of life (indeed, it’s what one does between breakfast and lunch, and again in the hours before dinner – preferably in the kitchen while your parents are trying to cook), posses must be constantly assembled, evil stepmothers and overlords are ever threatening both life and limb, and someone is dying of an incurable disease.
Also, we can all, apparently, talk to animals.
The point is, in the bruhaha that followed the ridiculous comments that Ms. Gurdon laid forth in that article so long ago missed an essential point – people who write for children, even those of us whose work veers into the dark and the creepy and the vaguely sinister – we are only scratching the surface of what is going on inside these kids’ heads. It is not that we are too dark or our books are too dark or that we’re destroying childhood or that we have some kind of sinister intent with our books. It’s that kids are dark. They’re really dark. The imaginative life of a child is boundless; it breaks rules; it is not safe.
The more I listen to kids, the more I know that they are far more brave than we can ever hope to be, and the stories they dream up would keep me in nightmares for weeks.
Which is why I’m glad that the kids don’t mind my listening. Because they are marvelous resources. And by “resource” I mean “people I steal from.”
Anyway, here’s the poem that my daughter and her friend wrote last week. I hope you enjoy!
The Gluecaps: A Sinister Tale of Depravity and Woe
This is Mr. Gluecap
He sits with you at night
And when the dancing bears come
You choke and scream with fright.
This is Mrs. Gluecap
She’s Mr. Gluecap’s wife.
She disappears behind your back
And stabs you with a knife.
This is Baby Gluecap;
She’s her mommy’s helper.
She knocks you out and puts you in
A field without a shelter.
This is Grandpa Gluecap
He grew to be so old.
He disappears into your mouth
And fills it full of mold.
I have to admit: I like the last one best.