In an interesting and thought-provoking blog for the Washington Post the invisibility of parents in children’s literature is lamented. The author argues that perhaps children’s literature needs a parent-lite approach to allow drama to unfold, and to create a dramatic space where children may be more clearly delineated as characters in their own right rather than as adjuncts to their elders.
Should parents be allowed back into children’s literature? The good ones I mean—the bad ones are always there of course. The problem is that often parents are written up too dramatically, and are therefore not recognisable in real life. No author would depict parents as dullards, however supportive and kind they might come across. That would make for easily forgotten characters. So they are often portrayed as stark staring bonkers instead.
It has been said that drama consists of life with the dull bits taken out. There’s nothing dull about Caractacus and Mimsie Pott from the Ian Fleming novel Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, including their names. But not many of us have fathers who are Royal Navy Commanders and crackpot inventors.
If not characterised as nutty, writers sometimes swing to the other, almost angelic, extreme. Ma and Pa Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie for example (somewhat fictionalised versions of real-life people). He could teach his offspring everything there is to know about being good and true while skinning a buffalo. While Ma Ingalls was Mother Theresa of Calcutta in a Gingham frock.
The personalities of ‘Real’ parents must surely lie somewhere along the continuum between barking mad and transcendentally good, but there’s not much call for them in children’s literature it appears.