The Value of the Cliché
YOU GUYS, I have the most exciting news ever. Someone hates Pipsqueak. Okay, let me rephrase. Someone who has not read Pipsqueak sent us hate mail. Is there anything more big time than getting hate mail? This is success, y’all! You’re not famous until you start getting hate mail. I didn’t anticipate hate mail writing a rhyming book for kids that benefits a charity, but I guess the trolls are everywhere. This must be what it feels like to be T-Swift. Haters gonna hate.
The email (from a fake email address, so it could be anyone! The mystery! The drama!) has a couple of bones to pick with Pipsqueak. First, he or she writes:
I’m sorry, I can’t help but correct the spelling and grammatical errors in the hate mail. Perhaps you should have read more books as kid, no? We can agree to disagree on this point, because I think we really do need more (quality) children’s books. But OMG – I’m a millennial and I wrote a children’s book and now I am blogging about it. Do you hate this? I’m so sorry. Only not.
More interestingly, he or she writes:
First of all – no, that’s actually not what the book is about at all. That said, even if that were what the book is about, if it were well-written and well-executed, I suspect that would be a great book. I’ve often thought about this particular piece of feedback as potentially the best criticism of Pipsqueak the Puppy – the story itself is perhaps a bit cliché. But here’s the thing about clichés: they are useful – even desirable – in children’s books.
Do you remember when you were in middle school and you watched your first romantic comedy? It probably seemed like the greatest movie ever at the time. Now, as an adult, you wince at those movies because – let’s face it – they are all the same. But the first time you saw it, it was fresh.
Children’s books are written for an audience for whom everything is fresh. There should be something to learn from everything children read; and it is actually better if those books teach the age-old lessons that people are likely to call “cliché” later in life. When you write for adults, or even young adults, it’s important for things to strike an unlikely tone; make your reader think in a different way; inspire something new in his or her thoughts.
For children, though, we need to reinforce those messages that we all learned as kids. We should not fall into the trap of thinking “oh, my kid knows that already.” Guess what: they don’t. They don’t know until you teach them. That’s the most remarkable thing about children! They are a blank slate.
If Pipsqueak were about a misfit animal befriending another misfit animal, the message would be:
That’s not Pipsqueak’s message, but if it were, it would be a great one. In fact, Pipsqueak has a few messages that are potentially even more cliché:
These are the lessons I hope my children and yours learn from Pipsqueak the Puppy. They are important, and they aren’t cliché until we make them cliché.
To my mystery hate mail writer: Bless your heart. Thanks for making me feel like a big shot. That was fun. But next time you open that laptop to write an email from a phony account, maybe remember this cliché: Get a life.