Tonight I was working in the kids' section at Barnes & Noble. It's a great gig late at night because you get maybe two customers every hour. Maybe. This leaves lots of free time for wandering around the section looking at picture books...ahem, I mean, putting books away and straightening up the section. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed reliving my childhood through *straightening* such books as Miss Rumphius, Strega Nona, The Bunyans, and Stone Soup, as well as my lifelong favorite Dr. Seuss books. I also found many of my favorite books from elementary and middle school, such as Where the Red Fern Grows, Caddie Woodlawn, Johnny Tremain, and Mr. Popper's Penguins.
But I was also thoroughly disturbed by what I am daily finding out is the state of reading today. It seems that for many of my generation and of younger generations, the thing to read is not something that you actually (in my opinion) really read at all. It's all about manga. Anime. Graphic novels. Whatever you want to call them. They're long Japanese comic books. There are more pictures than words and the binding is on the right-hand side of the book, and people (generally people under 30 or so) eat them up. I know many people for whom the only book they will pick up is a manga book.
Now, it's one thing if this happens when you're 15 or so and have been exposed to actual books already. Maybe reading normal (real) books isn't really your thing. Then, for your viewing pleasure, you can find manga Hamlet, manga Romeo and Juliet, a manga Bible, even a manga guide to raising autistic children. You think I'm kidding. Anyway, once you've tried actual books and decided it's not as much your thing, then manga might be moderately acceptable. What I find incredibly disturbing, however, is the presence of manga in children's literature.
I blame Captain Underpants. I'm pretty sure he (okay, his author) started manga for children with the books made up of half comics and half text. Those books were and are tremendously popular. I suppose I can see why-- most kids of the young elementary school level love superheroes and "gross" or semi-inappropriate things like underpants. But ultimately, what really caught on, was the style of book. And here we go into manga for kids.
There are many series of books that are designed to be just manga, of course. But what I discovered tonight that killed off yet another little piece of my soul is that there is also a manga version of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain and a manga Dracula by Bram Stoker. They've also made Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and Artemis Fowl into manga. This, in combination with the classic literature made into manga for adults, is pretty much enough to make me want to cry or bang my head against a solid object, not hard enough to give me a concussion but hard enough to make me forget that I found out about all this. Mark Twain and William Shakespeare are not only rolling over in their graves, they're doing somersaults, and not the happy kind either.
No doubt some people will try to defend manga to me by saying that at least it gets kids into books and away from the computer and TV. Well, to that I'd have to say that of course I partially agree. At least this version of manga doesn't have a screen at which to stare. But that is the only extent to which I agree. Any further would require a belief that manga does, in fact, involve quantities of reading that total to more than the amount you get from a cereal box.
Oh, and just for another interesting note, did you know that the John Deere company is now publishing kids' books on backhoes, tractors, dozers, etc.? With the company logo right on the front of the book? And they're making books that come with little "Disney Princess My Pods" (shameless spinoff on ipods, of course), and little "Sing Along Idol" books. Talk about getting started on consumerism at an early age.