Trying to think of classic young children's literature, apart from throwing up yet more examples of how brilliant Dr Seuss really is ("The Sneetches", "The Zax", "Pale Green Pants", "Horton Hatches The Egg", "Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?"), has led me to three possible conclusions:
1. There are so few genuine young children's classics that there is probably a huge market out there just waiting for some more...the ones that play both to children and the adult reader, that are funny, that are neatly crafted with clever but balanced and meaningful twists, that do not patronise, or underplay children's intelligence, that allow for the breadth of knowledge that the average child will have nowadays (no more twee teddy bears PLEASE!), and above all, that contain non-coercive, respectful messages, and are otherwise ethically sound.
2. Cartoon Network is SOOOO far ahead in providing this type of clever, funny, multi-textured, neatly crafted material, that we may as well give up on literature until it catches up.
I say this cos have just sat down with Dd and Ds and, completely at random, watched an episode of "Foster's Imaginary Friends". I admit the animation is pretty uninspired, but the script, if you bother to stop to listen to it, is unequivocally brilliant and streets ahead of most children's literature. The vocabulary is consistently stretching eg: The "prospective benefactor" (Mr Benny Factor) is "considering making a financial donation" to the home.
Gone are the days when you would at most have to jiggle two separate story lines in a totally formulaic Scooby Doo episode. Instead there were so many clever riffs, subplots and interweaving of plots in this one episode that you wonder how books can possibly keep up. We had here a whole essay on the meaning of sarcasm, with one character trying to teach the other how to be sarcastic, without realising that the other character is being sarcastic about not knowing about sarcasm. This theme ties together with another sub-plot in an utterly satisfying fashion, with the final line delivered by a previously completely pompous and utterly prosaic character from this other sub-plot saying "How much more sarcastic can I be?" to the total confusion of all the other previously sarcasm-wise characters.
3. I am beginning to doubt if literature really can keep up in this regard. It is just so much more possible to deliver complex messages, new vocabulary, multi-layered plots etc, in film, when you have the whole package. eg: new words can be understood through the manifest nature of the context and the impetus of the plot. Classic books instead will have to rely on being jewel-like, perfect in language, balance and craft. This perhaps should be their role. Am off to see if this is possible which may well be very depressing!