What is too cute?
Hate is a strong word, they say. I use it sparingly. However, I have no problem stating that I hate cute.
I've always been suspicious of cute things. They seem like a facade, a ploy to control people through their emotions. Even as a small child, I held a disdain for cute. My favorite books leaned away from cute. My favorite cartoon characters were never cute. The worst thing someone could say of me or my writing was "Oh, how cute!"
As a child who yearned to be taken seriously, the word cute seemed to pander, diminish, dismiss, and yes, even infantilize me. Cute toys, cute words, and cute songs all seemed to present a false sense of happiness.
Cute seemed fake, and I also hate fake, but that's another post altogether.
So what is cute? Most people apply the first definition, while I most definitely apply the second:
Saccharine is one of my favorite complimentary words to describe how I feel about cute:
Writing on the Edge of Cute
When I set out to write poetry for children, avoiding cute is my top priority. Children are surrounded by cute 24/7, it seems. From obnoxious cartoon characters with maniacally happy high pitched voices and eyes the size of saucers, to those annoying "kid-friendly" musicians.
I believe there should be more children's books by authors like the late Munro Leaf and the late Edward Gorey in the world. Although I know I am not at the same level, and may never be, I am a fan of their styles. Their respective writings treat children with a level of respect that doesn't pander to cute, but instead, acknowledges that young people are more capable than most adults in their lives give them credit for. Similar to the old Bugs Bunny cartoons, these books offer stories on multiple levels to be enjoyed by all ages.
I notice an ever-present underlying sense of humor in these works that are like little Easter eggs waiting to be discovered. Is there anything more delicious than the moment you understand a joke as an adult that passed right over your head as a kid?
Cute is Subjective, Illustrations are Important
Although I have the intention to avoid writing cute poetry for children, I understand that cute is subjective. I realize that some of my poems in First Snow and How Big is the World may seem overly saccharine to some readers. Some of them seem a bit too close to cute for me, and I wrote them! And some people are fine with cute, in fact, some people absolutely love cute.
However close my poems approach the level of cute, they are metered by the paintings that accompany them. The artwork created by my mother may be considered sentimental and nostalgic (which is a good thing), but never would I describe them as cute.
There are children who adore cute things, mostly girls in my experience, and that is fine and normal. However, my goal is to balance the overabundance of obnoxiously cute children's literature and entertainment with (hopefully) not-so-cute children's books that still appeal to readers young and old.
3/18/2018 12:11:37 pm
Jana, I met you at your Mom's yoga class at SCP. I enjoy reading your posts, especially this one regarding "cute." I share your opinion and having shared books with children for many years, feel that too much of children's "literature " is not literature at all. I, too, appreciate Munro Leaf's works, as well as Jan Brett's and Leo Lionni's. I anxiously await your book of children's poetry.
4/4/2018 08:21:40 am
Thank you, Barbara. I can only aspire to be as impactful as Leaf, Brett, and Leonni, et. al.
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I write novels and poetry and this blog.