Reactions to Writing
While reading The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes, and listening to dialog about the book in our Children’s Literature online classroom, I was intrigued by the fact that there were so many people who found the book to be one of their favorites and almost as many that felt little interest in the book at all. How could reactions to a children’s book vary so much from one side of the scale to the other? Do the responses differ according to age? Gender? Experience? Upbringing? Could all of these, play a part in the approval or disapproval of such a book? Or, perhaps there are other reasons that a person enjoys of doesn’t enjoy a book.
In the text Children’s Literature Briefly, James Jacobs and Michael Tunnell use the example of a college class that read a “not-very-good” biography. The biography was about a Cherokee ballerina in the 20th century. By the end of the reading, all but five women thought that the book was an average book. It turned out that each of the five women that thought the book was better than usual had taken ballet as a child. The biography appealed to each of the women’s interests so they felt engaged as they read the story, because the story reminded them of their own experiences as children (Jacobs, 19).
I believe that Estes was able to draw some of her audience to The Hundred Dresses because they had similar experiences to the characters in the book. Some people may have experienced a time when they longed to be a part of a group or a specific activity, but they did not know how to go about it. Perhaps there are others who could relate to being a part of a group but also remember feeling sorry for those who were mistreated by some of the group members. There may also be those who were very popular and had many friends and perhaps felt nervous about keeping their friends. Those people might have struggled with the dilemma of how to balance the contrasting feelings of longing for popularity and a desire to be compassionate. I believe that Estes was able to portray these personalities without stating that one was better than or worse than another. I believe this presentation of the characters made the story applicable to many of the readers of The Hundred Dresses. But even if a person can relate to the characters of a story does not mean that they will enjoy the book or believe the book to be an “excellent” book.
According to Jacobs and Tunnell, a quality book includes well-developed style and language, characters, plot, illustrations, tension, design and layout, point of view, as well as several other traits. Jacobs and Tunnell also stated that one of the characteristics of a good book is the quality of the book. When it comes to fiction, Jacobs and Tunnell believe that “style and language, character, and plot” are the characteristics that are primarily focused on when judging the quality of a book (Jacobs 15-16). When I read through a book for pleasure, I don’ t think that I pay attention to the qualities that are listed above unless they specifically stand out to me on some personal level. For example, depending on if the tension is something I can relate to, or the tension is so unbelievable that I lose interest, I will think about the way that tension played a role in the story. I find that I am more critical when I am less engaged with the topic of the story. For instance, I notice grammatical errors more often in textbooks then in a captivating fictional piece. In the same way, when people read through books for pleasure or otherwise, they may pay close attention to the quality of the book or they may be enthralled in the story for another reason.
When I read a book, I enjoy reading “quality” books though quality is not the only reason I will choose to read a book. For example, while discussing likes and dislikes of The Hundred Dresses, some people in the online classroom have said that they would have liked the book more if the illustrations had more color and if there was a greater attention to detail. At the same time, there were people who pointed out that the absence of color and the vagueness of the pictures leave greater room for imagination (Arneson). Personally, I am wondering if the idea that the artwork has to stand up to a specific standard is what Jacobs and Tunnell meant when they included illustration in the list of what is included in a quality book. So, are there separate guidelines for determining a quality illustration like there are with books? Do illustrations play a role in the quality of a book or do we bring up a new idea when we begin to talk about illustrations?
According to Jacobs and Tunnell there is another characteristic that people use to determine whether a book is good, or not, they call that characteristic taste. If a person likes the paintings because there are explosion of color mixed with empty white spaces, perhaps they have a different taste for art than the person who sees an absence or a lacking of something in the pictures. Sherri Winans stated that, “These illustrations look ‘normal’ to me, though I'm aware of the fact that they're kind of "washed out" or subdued or something. The modern eye likes lots of color and activity, I'll bet. These pictures remind me of my Grandma Hinshaw and another world that I knew about as a kid” (Winans). Winans was thinking about why she liked the pictures in The Hundred Dresses. Perhaps it had something to do with her upbringing or the fact that the book brought back wonderful memories of the past. Jacobs and Tunnell propose “if we like a book because it serves as a link to something already a part of us, we might say, ‘I like this book because it connects me with something important in my life’” (Jacobs 17). Similarly, one’s taste might draw a person to a book because of their experiences as a child or because of the stories that they got to read or were forced to read when they where a child.
When I read The Hundred Dresses I found that I paid more attention to the lay out of the story and how it unfolded than taking a conscious look at the quality of the book. I found that the illustrations didn’t especially pop out to me during my first time reading the book, but instead I thought about story and themes behind the text. It was not until someone pointed out the illustrations that I really began to think about how the pictures went along with the book. For me, I believe that my interests in stories lead me to focus on the tale. I am often interested in meeting a new character in the books I read and found that Estes introduced her characters well.
In the end, I think I will continue to ask these questions about why people enjoy the books they read. Now that I have a little more knowledge, I feel that I can at least begin to examine why I like the books I read and perhaps take a closer look at the reasons other adults and children like the books they read in the. Do responses differ according to age? Gender? Experience? Upbringing? Could all of these play a small part in the approval or disapproval of such a book? Or, perhaps there is another reason that a person enjoys or doesn’t enjoy a book.
Arneson, Cari, Brandon Rappuhn, Alayna Sytsma, Katelyn Takemura, Sherri Winans. “Thinking about Reading.” Whatcom Community College Moodle. Online postings. 9 January 2008. 16 March 2008 https://access.whatcom.ctc.edu/.
Jacobs, James, and Michael O. Tunnell. “Why Read?” Children’s Literature Briefly. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: 2004. 4-11.
Winans, Sherri. “Thinking About Reading.” Whatcom Community College Moodle. Online posting. 9 January 2008. 16 January 2008 https://access.whatcom.ctc.edu/.