If you' re looking for a book that will tone both your own and your children's biceps and intellects, you'll want to take a good long look at Harold Bloom's new volume, Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages. This may sound just a tad pretentious and elitist. And it is. Professor Bloom, the well-known literary critic, has given us a weighty collection of works by some famous, some obscure authors, from the Renaissance to around the 1920s, that a child might read -- if that child were a lot like Harold Bloom and preferred, say, Thomas Love Peacock's "The Song of the Four Winds" or the anonymous ballad, "The Lincolnshire Poacher" to Maurice Sendak's "Chicken Soup with Rice," or Dr. Seuss's The Lorax.
Professor Bloom is quite forthright in his denunciation of what he calls in his introduction to the book "the category of 'Children's Literature'" because, he writes, it is too often today (quote) "a mask for the dumbing down that is destroying our literary culture." He goes on: " Most of what is now commercially offered as childen's literature would be inadequate fare for any reader of any age at any time." Now, that's quite a sweeping generalization, and is certain to have a good number of contemporary writers of works for children of any age crying "foul." Not that there isn't something to be said for keeping many of the works of English and American literature, like those collected in this book, in print and thus available to children -- works by G. K. Chesterton and John Clare, William Morris and Lafcadio Hearn, Catherine Sinclair and Elizabeth Barret Browning. To be sure, they are part of our literary heritage. But what Professor Bloom does not wish to acknowledge is that cultures, literary or otherwise, do not remain fixed forever; they're complex, changing organisms -- like the people who create them. Especially the young people, who will still be extremely intelligent even though they may not be reading Tennyson and Turgenyev. Which is why, of course, one also wants to have this volume around -- so that these works, a little dusty from all their travels, can arrive, rapping at the doors of the imagination, patiently waiting to be heard, above the sound of the rap.
Copyright © 2001 by John Cech
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Wednesday, 04-Sep-2002 22:25:00 EDT