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The Publisher's Desk

The Publisher's Desk

On the fascination of children.


“New needs always create new forms,” Metternich says, and so the arrival of a new baby in our household has demanded from us a new kind of knowledge: chiefly that of baby toys. Newborns do not have many extracurricular interests at first, but as they begin to recognize the world and their place in it, their interest in it correspondingly grows. And so we give them toys. Toys fascinate, amuse, entertain, intrigue, surprise, and teach both children and their parents. Most of a young child’s waking time is play time, and at this age we get to know our daughter by playing.

Of all her toys, her favorites are her books. She loves Goodnight Moon, Madeline, Goodnight Gorilla, Guess How Much I Love You?, and (best of all) Dr. Seuss’s ABC. The rhythm of the spoken words comforts her and alerts her to the importance of the object in front of her; she knows that she is being spoken to, and that the book is being spoken about (see Sister Carino Hodder’s beautiful meditation on the subject, page 56). She carefully inspects the pictures, and one can see her satisfying herself that the fiffer-feffer-feff’s fluffy feathers do indeed number four ere the page is turned.

In addition to these wood-pulp-and-printer’s-ink board books, she has two books made of fabric. One tells the story of the Itsy Bitsy Spider in interactive detail. In the other our daughter peruses a series of animal portraits whose moveable ears and arms first cover up and then (with Dad’s help) reveal their smiling silly faces to her. To a child of four months this is riveting stuff. Where does the dog go when his floppy ears obscure his face from view? Nowhere; he simply drops out of existence. His reappearance is not just an unexpected cause for celebration, but a kind of “black swan” event, unpredictable, like seeing him again for the first time. Eventually she will obtain object permanence and this game of peek-a-boo will lose some of its fun, but for now she is enthralled by the unknowns her future brings to each passing minute. No predictors or forecasters will bother to ruin her fun as yet (I direct the reader’s attention to Sam Kriss’s investigation, page 30).

Our girl knows, however, that there is more to life than intellectual pursuits, and she equally enjoys a good gnaw on a teething toy. Rattles and rubber rings she judges best suited to this purpose, but any reasonably firm object will do—a pillow, a finger, her squeaky toy Sophie the Giraffe. She likes the sound of running water, the green leaves of the trees overhead in summer, and being taken on many, many afternoon tours of her home (see Colin Redemer, page 12).

One kind of amusement is forbidden her categorically, but she doesn’t mind: no screens. No T.V., no tablets, no video games, and definitely no cell phones. This is no real burden to her, since she cannot yet recognize the images that electronic devices create as pictures or representations of anything real. I have lately read that the biggest profiteers in “big tech”— Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg—all limited or proscribed the use of technology among their own children. I doubt our household will be tech-free forever, and I look back fondly on the time (well, some of the time) I wasted as a child playing Zelda on our Nintendo 64 (Harrison Lemke, page 18). Maybe, down the road, when she’s older, we will consider an exception.

Some day our daughter may add superheroes to her toy collection. I remember pestering my mother for toys and costumes with (hugely important) “capes” (for Nic Rowan’s encounter with a certain caped crusader, see page 41). Or perhaps some of the Disney figures of my childhood will charm her as they did me and my siblings; will Aladdin, or The Little Mermaid (I recommend David Bentley Hart’s article on mer-kind, page 49), or Toy Story, or The Iron Giant speak to a new generation? I hope so.

Each week brings a new fascination, and the joy of her newfound loves is the only thing that can diminish the sad realization that she just isn’t as amused now by that toy she adored last week. Hence, I suppose, the adult appetite for journalism.

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