This article argues that the Frog and Toad books function as useful literary “primers,” not just for young children, but for college students as well. It also shows that Frog and Toad Together (1972) by Arnold Lobel provides an accessible introduction to critical reading practices and multiple theoretical paradigms. Following the practice of formalism, and particularly of New Criticism, the starting point for analyzing Frog and Toad Together is to look closely at how literary elements convey unity and complexities. One of its complexities is that nearly all the descriptive details, whether about setting or character, come from the visual text. The effect on Frog shows the problematic nature of Toad's assertion of superiority. The ideological constructions of culture and society about children often block deeper critical thought about children's literature.
Karin E. Westman
This article describes J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series' (1997–2007) generic hybridity, focusing on elements of the school story, bildungsroman, and fantasy in the texts. It specifically illustrates how Rowling plays with generic forms and boundaries toward a similar theme: the value of moral agency, born from sympathy for others. The implications such generic hybridity has for a fourth genre are provided. The bildung that Rowling emphasizes is Harry's moral and emotional development, as her choice of narrative style places the emphasis upon subjective, internal experience as much as external actions within the world. Throughout his school years at Hogwarts, all that Harry can be certain of is uncertainty, as he struggles to make the best decision within a complex and competing array of choices. Rowling reveals the dual role children's literature currently serves in contemporary culture, particularly contemporary British culture.
This article explores the work of two generations of children in a Boston family who created their own books by taking the history of Johann David Wyss's The Swiss Family Robinson (1812, 1814) as the starting point. The Swiss Family Robinson is surely one of the most adapted and adaptable of childhood texts, and so proves a perfect site for this inquiry. The Hales offer a particularly vivid instance of literary salvaging. The Swiss Family Robinson is explicitly named and frequently alluded to in the Hale children's homemade books, and sea travel, shipwrecks, and deserted-island survival stories are a favorite genre for these children. The Swiss Family Robinson calls attention to the ties between the construction efforts that build their island home and the work of imagination. Its island world celebrates domesticity, ingenuity, and abundance, and equates colonial power with the power of the imagination.
This article shows that the works of Dr. Seuss, the most beloved bard of children's nonsense—and especially The Cat in the Hat (TCITH) (1957)—can be read within the context of the dramatic cultural changes which paved the way for and grew out of the rebellions of the 1960s. Seuss's anarchic nonsense fostered a sensibility conducive to the New Left ideal of participatory democracy. A carnivalesque setting is a locus of social formation that fosters an atmosphere within which controversial topics and utopian desires may be confronted. TCITH also awakens in its readers the possibility of seeing themselves in a profoundly new way, and this is achieved through exposure to existential dilemmas and enigmas typical of nonsense. Seuss's texts arguably bestowed political agency on that generation “most critical of the Vietnam War,” whose perhaps unwitting parents supplied them with Seuss texts in piles throughout their formative years.
This chapter summarizes the history of science fiction comics from early newspaper comic strips through comic books up to recent graphic novels. Noting that science fiction comics are prominent in many national traditions, such as Japanese manga, it argues that the formal elements of comics have played a specific role in the construction of fandom, and that these elements can play a distinctive role in the representation of tropes and icons central to the science fiction genre. Overall, the chapter argues that comics have maintained a more significant and persistent role in the history of science fiction than is commonly recognized.
Katharine Capshaw Smith
This article opens up the literary, aesthetic, and cultural contexts of the Harlem Renaissance by discussing how children were imagined within this movement and by examining in particular Langston Hughes' The Dream Keeper (1932). It also argues that both literature and children were crucial vehicles for social change. Hughes' poetry collection, The Dream Keeper, is a landmark publication within the field of American children's literature. This collection contains poems that remain frequently anthologized, and reflects the genius of the artist and the range of his attention and productivity during the 1920s. It enables us to understand the significance of childhood to black cultural reinvention in the 1920s and 1930s. Additionally, the collection conveys the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance and speaks to the particular position of children within that movement. Hughes' poetry seeks to bridge divides between the old and the young, between the folk and the progressive.
This article reviews the documentary evidence against Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables (1908) to argue that the figure of the adopted (white, Canadian) child—and the British child emigrants and aboriginal Canadians who this figure erases—encapsulate ideas about belonging and acceptance within the home and within Canadian national identity. The title of Anne of Green Gables indicates the primary context for Anne's identity as the member of a community—that of the house and the family in the house. Its plot spans the distance Marilla travels from understanding the child who is to enter her home as a farm worker in terms of the child's economic worth to understanding the child as an emotional resource. Additionally, its iconic status as a text in and of Canada suggests the naturalized power of this image of the happy daughter of a happy house.
This article examines the ways in which Walt Disney created a cinematic empire by selling his creations as “good for children.” It links them to classic children's literature and incorporates popular child-rearing wisdom. The article also investigates the ways in which the animated film Dumbo (1941) functioned as a dialog with World War II. Dumbo was released a little more than a month before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the cultural field into which the film entered, at least in terms of understandings about children and child-rearing, was in transition. The world of Dumbo counterposed the overweening social policing of the conformist elephants against the blind self-interest of the union-organizing clowns, and it marked a humble, talented, and unique Dumbo as the happy medium.
This article analyzes representative topoi or traditions emanating from the so-called golden age of children’s writing in the late Victorian era that feature encounters with the physical environment. It traces the emergence of modern (Western) environmentally oriented children’s literature and examines the permutations of two overlapping topoi that have served as carriers of environmental concern since the late nineteenth century. It reviews works that purport to imagine nonhuman life-worlds from the standpoint of the creatures themselves and those that deal with the discovery or construction of special, often hidden outdoor places by children that are shown to have catalytic significance in bonding them to the natural environment.
Froggy’s Little Brother: Nineteenth-Century Evangelical Writing for Children and the Politics of Poverty
This article addresses Froggy's Little Brother (1875), a British nineteenth-century “street arab” novel about destitute London children, through the lens of postcolonial theory. It illustrates how fictional conventions magnifying the plight of the poor child helped focus the debate over the “politics of poverty” at issue in Victorian society. In Froggy's Little Brother, the author, Brenda, had to navigate the waters of public opinion very carefully. The book also makes use of conventions to underline the urgent need to attend to the poor. It may often misrepresent Victorian London's poor children, but it is one of the key texts that sought to carve out a place for them in culture and helped create pathways by which their stories were gathered and told.
This article asks big questions about children's literature using Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871) as case studies: how do “adult” and “child” readers make meanings from children's texts, and how is power exercised over those meanings? From the answers to these questions, it also seeks to discover whether the meaning of a “book for children” can be deduced. The two key factors in approaching a text are who the reader is and why she/he is reading the text; and the only thing that might be confidently stated is that the “adult” reader is more likely than the “child” reader to have a purpose other than personal gratification in reading the text. Because children are part of the critical and philosophical equation, working with children's books requires the kind of complexity, ambiguity, and flexibility that Carroll demonstrated in these densely woven masterpieces.
This article argues that the example of the enormously popular Free to Be . . . You and Me (1972) points to the ways in which childhood became a utopian space of liberation in large part. It starts by setting the Free to Be series into the broader context of second-wave feminist activism. Free to Be is very much a document of liberal feminism, which was by the early 1970s the most mainstream and visible expression of the larger feminist movement. The article additionally investigates three of the specific texts featured in Free to Be: Ladies First, Atalanta, and William's Doll. These three texts showcase different thematic aspects of the Free to Be project. The politics of Free to Be is considered from the perspective of the present day. The Free to Be project's emphasis on sensitive boys and adventurous girls continues to resonate.
M. O. Grenby
This article argues that attending to the various historical and geographical contexts which inform the setting of Kidnapped: Being Memoirs of the Adventures of David Balfour in the Year 1751 (1886) and the 1880s British milieu in which Robert Louis Stevenson wrote allows the novel to comment upon political and cultural debates of long-standing importance in British life. Kidnapped is set in the aftermath of the Jacobite Rising of 1745–6. It is a classic bildungsroman, following David from orphanhood to adulthood, and charting his psychological development and education in the ways of the world. The complete fusion of Stevenson's individual characters' narratives and their psychological drama with the complex historical setting was one of his greatest achievements in Kidnapped. The picturesque was both political and psychologically crucial, as only a full investigation of the novel's multiple contexts can reveal.
This article engages questions of canonicity, asking why Sally Watson's popular 1969 novel, Jade, never achieved critical recognition. It also suggests that Watson's tomboy characters, especially Jade, crossed a line in terms of their gender-bending performances, which, by the late 1960s, produced anxiety in adult critics, thus keeping Jade out of the canon. The article then proposes that reading Jade against its more canonical, more socially approved predecessors provides insight into the parameters of the tomboy tradition and what those parameters imply about twentieth-century understandings of femininity. It is suggested that Jade is a radical novel that appeared at a moment radical in some ways and conservative in others; to be palatable to those working within establishment venues such as public libraries and mainstream review outlets, it had to be presented—not altogether successfully—as a traditional romantic swashbuckler whose progressivism had more to do with race than with gender.
Michelle H. Martin
This article argues that the Logan family novels (1975–2001) present a compelling longitudinal study of African American experience in the early to mid-twentieth century. Mildred Taylor explores the meaning and process of attaining “true freedom” through economic and educational achievements and through respect for the traditions of the past, key themes in African American children's literature. Most of Taylor's work cannot rightly be called “autobiographical” since she writes about her ancestors rather than her own generation. The Logans' four avenues to pursuing freedom—land ownership, struggling for civil rights, pursuing an education, and learning oral family history—have been central in Taylor's own life. In general, Taylor has made a substantial contribution to the shaping of the genre of contemporary African American children's literature.
This article uses Margaret Sidney's domestic novel Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (1881) to reveal assumptions about social class, birth, and taste in late-nineteenth-century America. Starting with the idea of this text as a “classic,” it moves to the place of class within the classic, examining ways in which tensions between manner(s) and money illuminate popular notions about class and family. Five Little Peppers is one of the many novels of the period that celebrates the notion of a family based on choice, on ties of affection as well as those of blood. The book's plot, which celebrates the recent codification of children's rights and restores the patrician child to her rightful place in the social hierarchy, involves an entire family.
This article argues that despite the New England Primer's emphasis upon authority, as children were invited into unmediated communion with the text they gained a sense of themselves as agents with the power to shape both literary meaning and an interior realm of subjectivity. The Primer's history thus reflects dramatic changes in childhood. Its inclusion of joyous prayers and solemn meditations on death suggest that these individual rituals were central to its pedagogy. The evangelical revisions of the Primer were part of an ongoing shift within New England religious culture from patriarchal hierarchy to individual spiritual responsibility. The reading practices inaugurated by the Primer are perhaps best summarized by a reader who in 1849 asked, “whose brain has not been effectually confused by copious and involuntary draughts of John Cotton's Spiritual Milk for Babes [and been] reminded, in a moment of despondency, that his Book and Heart Must Never Part?”
This article argues that through a radical retelling of the myth of the fall from Paradise in the His Dark Materials trilogy (1995–2000), Philip Pullman replaces an old mythology of childhood and coming of age with a fresh version which does not privilege innocence over experience or adulthood over childhood. Pullman models a critical engagement with questions about self and other and one's place and meaning in the cosmos. His Dark Materials addresses two strands of Romantic thought: rebellious challenges to religious and state authority; and the Romantic “cult of childhood,” which indulged in an orgy of child worship that prized children's innocence over adults' experience. The article also legitimately and usefully challenges deeply entrenched notions that children are best kept innocent and that one's physical, material, and sexual existence is less significant than the spiritual.
This article reinscribes agency both to the performers of James Matthew Barrie's play and to child audience members, whose responses are notoriously difficult to track, by closely exploring the history of Peter Pan (1904) and relating it to nonprofessional children's theatricals, and by describing children's own responses to the play as audience members. Peter Pan bore numerous traces of its private prehistory. Barrie identified children as a crucial target audience for Peter Pan both before and after he drafted it. He was tremendously pleased to discover that young fans were reenacting Peter Pan at home. Indeed, Barrie was so delighted by this phenomenon that he actually rewrote the play to acknowledge it. Beerbohm and Barrie were aware that early-twentieth-century playgoers considered Peter Pan a children's play and that children attended in large numbers.
This article addresses how The Bat-Poet (1964) may be used to explore the rich traditions of American children's poetry within a larger literary history encompassing both fiction and criticism. This work responds to what Randall Jarrell perceived as antipoetic times with the nuance and emotional depth that is the province not of criticism but of imaginative literature. The synopsis of The Bat-Poet hardly does justice to the story's enduring intellectual and emotional appeal. The conversation between Jarrell's writing for children and his writing for adults is clear evidence that Lowell was wrong about Jarrell's children's writing being “a nice idyllic thing to do.” The culture is even more hostile to poetry than Jarrell's was.