Child's play it's not
An online journal aims to wrest the discussion of children's literature from pure nostalgia and bring serious critical discourse to the subject
As far as is known, arguing spiritedly about the state of children's literature under clouds of cigarette smoke and mists of alcohol is not a literary norm.
But Tamar Hochstatter and Yotam Schwimmer, founders and editors of a new Internet journal about children's literature and culture, Hapinkas ("The Notebook," www.ha-pinkas.co.il ), have serious intentions about their new enterprise, evident from the site's sober look and content.
In its three months of existence, Hapinkas has averaged about 2,000 hits a month - quite a lot for a first outing when you take into account that the site is a private venture without any institutional support.
They have been helped by the fact that children's writers such as Yehuda Atlas and Shlomit Cohen-Asif, scholars like Yehiam Peden and Tor Gonen, and artist and author Marit Ben Israel have contributed their work. Nurit Zarchi and the illustrator Ofra Amit have also given interviews to the site.
The editors' have the vision of turning Hapinkas into an alternative platform for artists and scholars in the area of children's literature and culture.
Indeed, the first three issues include interesting articles which are neither too heavy nor too light, and which contain serious discourse. The new journal also has the goal of becoming a platform for original work, and has begun taking its first steps in this direction.
The editors say that their work comes from their love of children's literature. They are both 25 years old, students in Jerusalem, opinionated and broadminded. Schwimmer studies comparative literature and French studies and Hochstatter is finishing the illustration track in the visual communication department of Bezalel.
"I feel that there are areas where I haven't matured: My love for children's books, theater and puppet shows is alive and well," Hochstatter says. "These areas never stopped interesting me, even while my interest has naturally become more intellectual and I have adopted a more critical attitude over the years.
The idea for the site arose from a random conversation between the two. "We were surprised to discover that we both have an extraordinary affection for children's literature and culture," says Hochstatter. "Yotam expressed frustration that these works are not treated with the same seriousness as works of art for adults, and I identified with this. Most of the time, the Internet offers only the marketing of children's books according to ages and perhaps a little bit of criticism. We decided to create this platform on our own."
"We wanted to illuminate the sidelines, to write cultural criticism, and mostly to approach important topics in a way that was not didactic or moralistic," Schwimmer adds.
Hochstatter wants to deal with subjects that are often ignored. For example, music for children. "We grew up on 'Peter and the Wolf' and 'The Toy Symphony.' We know what's suitable for children visually, when it comes to musical notes, who decides what is or is not correct?"
Schwimmer sees the Internet format as an advantage rather than a disadvantage. "We are of course devotees of print, but the Internet is an accessible place allowing great flexibility with regard to pictures, video and blogs." The medium also allows for the immediate presentation of original texts and so produces an intriguing, immediate dialogue via talkbacks.
"It is also an opportunity to reach as many people as possible," he says.
Despite busy schedules, the two enthusiastically set about establishing the journal. They work mainly at night, for no pay.
"It makes us very happy to see that so many people felt the lack in this area," Hochstatter says. "At the beginning I thought that people were visiting the site for nostalgic reasons. But this isn't our direction at all."
The magic of the word
Hochstatter says that her collection of children's books moves with her from one apartment to another.
"Whenever I'm in a bad mood, I take out "Emil and the Detectives" and my mood improves. Her favorite children's writer of all is Roald Dahl.
Her love for children's culture extends to the Army Radio program "The Music Box" which she broadcasts Saturday mornings with Stav Palti-Negev (who also writes for Hapinkas ) and which ranges from the nostalgic to silly. "We interviewed [a children's book character named] Giraffe; we made sounds; we played Sarale Sharon records," Hochstatter says.
The website has no formal division of labor, but Schwimmer has taken responsibility for texts while Hochstatter works on art. Events, such as the exhibition of illustrations, including the new one - "Illustrating love" - on view at the old Tel Aviv train station, have been the subject of journal articles.
Schwimmer believes that the magic of the text and of the word still works today, despite the Internet and television.
"There is no reason why children shouldn't be exposed to a good text," he says. "It is possible to maintain quality and accessibility to today's young audience."
Hochstatter says that "It is harder to attract the modern child's attention than it ever was." She thinks that "generally the inferior stuff reaches the widest population, where marketing aims its efforts."
But she is convinced that children are capable of liking anything well-produced that is made with feeling.
"We need mediators who choose quality material for children. This is critical. Sometimes one magical show a child sees in grade school touches her in a place never reached before, and manages to penetrate through the flashing screens and Sony Playstations. We need to create this for the children."