Should Children's Authors Be Role Models?


A couple of months ago I was searching online for information about the children's author Margaret Wise Brown. In the last little while I've developed a fascination with children's authors & illustrators of previous generations. I've been reading a wide range of picture books published from about 1940 - 1980. I am amazed at how many books I missed reading as a kid. And here I thought I was a pretty good little reader when I was young!

I've also become fascinated with the lives of the kidlit writers of the past. None of these creative folk were boring, I must say. It was while researching the life of Margaret Wise Brown that I came across a blog posting by someone who, after discovering some interesting tidbits of Ms. Brown's life (MWB carried on a number of relationships with various men, as well as a long-term relationship with a woman, she didn't handle money very well, and she never had children of her own), expressed great disappointment in the author's personal and private life, was surprised that she wrote for children, and felt that she was in no way a good 'role model' for young readers.

role model by patricia storms

Credit: Patricia Storms, used with permission

Yes, I was greatly annoyed by this post. I wanted to respond, but someone else had already expressed pretty much exactly what I had wanted to say, and besides –- was it really my job to change this person's mind? Actually, I kind of appreciated this woman's bizarre point of view regarding the role of children's authors –- it got me thinking about this subject a great deal, which in turn motivated me to research a bit more about the lives of various authors & illustrators of years gone by.

So... for those interested, and just in case you didn't already know... Maurice Sendak was gay and never had children. James Marshall was also gay and never had kids. Louise Fitzhugh, author of Harriet the Spy? Gay & childless. Dr. Suess never had kids, and apprently wasn't that fond of 'em, either. Beatrix Potter never had children, and in fact, preferred the company of animals. Louisa May Alcott never had kids and was probably gay, and apparently smoked hashish, too. And for those interested in the peccadilloes of present day children's authors, there is of course Robert Munsch, who has struggled with addictions to cocaine and alcohol.

Do I need to go on? And not that I in any way place myself on the same level as these great creators, but I'm certainly not a perfect person, either. And no, I'm not about to reveal any of my dark past here. Do we really want our kidlit authors & illustrators to be role models? Is that a prerequisite for this job? Heavens, I hope not. All of these folks I have mentioned have lived rich and full lives, which no doubt played a great part in why their works were so unique and popular. In the end, it is about the books that these fascinating people have created, not their personal lives and struggles. Can you imagine if publishers only ever accepted stories by authors who were heterosexual breeders? What would that leave us with? The works of Stan and Jan Berenstain? Oy.

Patricia Storms is an award-winning cartoonist. She is also an author and illustrator of children’s books and humour books. Her cartoons have been published in Reader’s Digest, the National Post, The London Times, the London Evening Standard and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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