Jump the Shark and The Death of Arthur

  • The independent literary revolution sparked by the rise of the Amazon Juggernaut has largely focused on adult fare. Not adult fare in the pornographic sense, but adult fare in the ‘reading level and philosophically sophisticated sense’. You can’t swing a dead cat around the Amazon algorithm without hitting an author throwing his own finished novels into the thriller and fantasy and romance genres. Perhaps the same is true for children’s books, but given the large back supply of classical children’s books in my house, I’ve been largely insulated from the enwokening of books for the younger set.

There are also ancillary issues involved with children’s books that I’ve heard of but cannot discuss beyond the most unreliable of speculations. Which I fully intend to do here.

The children’s book market has always been very competitive and publishers fare more willing to produce shovelware. Infiltrated early by the anti-Western illiterate, it has long been unfavorable ground for the sort of Western Renaissance 2.0 that the opening of markets had enabled of late. Discounted as ‘beneath serious thinkers’ too stupid to realize the importance of not throwing your children into the arms of your enemies, the libraries quickly filled up with variations of The Rainbow Fish.

For those who don’t know, The Rainbow Fish, is a lavishly illustrated poison pill sold as a “lesson about sharing” whose deeper message conveys the modern myth of equality of outcome as the highest ideal, and the value of envy and ostracism as a means of effecting that outcome. It’s insidious and raised a small ruckus at the time of its initial American release. This is the children’s equivalent of being forced to read Johnny Got His Gun, and it is almost everywhere.

Almost, but not quite, because our ancestors have left us with a large and valuable inheritance of works written before the West came down with a bad case of Modernity. Even minor classical works such as the classic Sesame Street tale of Bert baking corn bread. When it’s time to do the work, no one has any interest in Bert. When its time to eat the treats, suddenly everyone is his best friend. A good man, Bert refuses to share until they pitch in and do a little something to help. Hard as it is to believe, but even the fallen Childrens Television Workshop used to honor Western ideals, and if you’ve got physical copies, they’ll have a hard time taking them away. “You don’t work, you don’t eat,” is the kind of message a lot more children and adults need to hear these days, but you won’t find that sort of message in the publishing world of NYC.

For that, you need to look to the independent world, where a few brave souls still tend the flame of fallen culture.

Enter one E. Darwin Hartshorn, whose works have an energy and foundation firmly rooted in the good, the beautiful, and the true. His Jump the Shark reminds me in many ways of the golden age of the Tunes most Looney. The joke in the title was lost on my daughter – wait, that’s not right. For her, the joke was that a shark, which she knows for a fact is a swimmer, would have no need of jumping. Once she jumped into the book, an easy read for a six-year-old, she was lost in the artwork, which has an almost video-game feel to it. The brief story of loss and redemption carries with it some cartoonish violence and enemies of the Super-Mario variety, and is presented with an earnestness as refreshing as it is charming. This is the kind of book that I have been looking for and unable to find until now.

The Death of Arthur takes a much more serious tone.  It takes some grim turns. It is written for an older set – a chapter book more suited for second grade  not thereaders.It’s.  kind of book that you toss to a child and leave to ponder on their own. In our house it is the kind of book meant to inspire serious discussions about morality, honor, family, and friendship. It is a thinking man’s children’s book, and not well suited for the sorts of parents who silence curious children by sticking their children’s noses in a full-volume tablet when pushing them around the grocery store or at restaurants or really anywhere.

Both come much recommended for parents of children on the early edge of reading.