Panel Sees Value in Children's Literature

Children’s literature is more important than ever in an increasingly fast-paced society, according to a panel of five authors and two filmmakers hosted by the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Brought together to view and discuss “Library of the Early Mind,” a documentary about the significance of children’s literature in modern culture, the panel began a discussion that was inspired by the film.

“The film speaks to the way that books open up a child’s creativity and imagination,” said author Padma T. Venkatraman, who participated in the discussion via videoconference from India.

“Fiction can do this in a way that nonfiction never can,” she added.

Steven Withrow, a co-producer of the film, said the goal of the documentary was to “make a film for people who aren’t quite giving children’s books their due.”


He said that literature for children provides them with an escape from the pressures of the future.

“I loved experiences with books that had nothing to do with my future,” he said. “This is the experience we write for—not to get kids into Harvard.”

The panel also rebuffed claims that the picture book has become obsolete, saying that the medium still has value in the face of technology.

Edward J. Delaney, director and co-producer of the film, dismissed the argument that children should forego picture books for more challenging chapter books.

“There are really some big ideas being spread in children’s books,” he said, including individuality, friendship, and the struggles of growing up.

Author Roger Sutton maintained that emerging technology cannot replace traditional books because it “is so dependent on print for its legitimacy.”

But panelists did not spare the children’s literature industry of criticism, saying that it had neglected important themes.

Author and illustrator Jerry Pinkney called for greater representation of interracial marriages, and author Lesléa Newman said more books should feature transgender children.

Lois Lowry, author of the children’s literature classic “The Giver,” praised the “parents and librarians and booksellers and teachers” who bridge the gap between writers and readers.

Michelle Y. Lee, an audience member and student at HGSE, said she thought the film “made people think about children’s literature in a very different way,” adding that she hopes children’s books will stay in their traditional printed form.

“I love holding a children’s book in my hands,” she said. “The pictures are so much different in a book than on a computer.”