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date: 17 June 2021

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Chapter Abstracts

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Chapter 1: “The Fundamentals of Children’s Literature Criticism: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass” by Peter Hunt

Using Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871) as case studies, Hunt asks big questions about children’s literature: 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 and other foundational questions, Hunt asks, can we deduce what we mean by a “book for children”—as opposed to any other book?

Chapter 2: “Randall Jarrell’s The Bat-Poet: Poets, Children, and Readers in an Age of Prose” by Richard Flynn

Flynn considers 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. Part autobiography and part critical meditation, the essay is also a comment on the politics of New Criticism—a method associated with close reading—which in practice attempts to separate “the literary” from “the political.”

(p. 24) Chapter 3: “Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Together as a Primer for Critical Literacy” by Teya Rosenberg

Rosenberg argues that the Frog and Toad books function as useful literary “primers,” not just for young children, but for college students as well. Modeling a critical practice that could be applied to many “simple” books, Rosenberg argues that Frog and Toad Together (1972) offers an accessible introduction to critical reading practices and multiple theoretical paradigms.

Chapter 4: “Blending Genres and Crossing Audiences: Harry Potter and the Future of Literary Fiction” by Karin E. Westman

Westman discusses the Harry Potter series’ (1997-2007) generic hybridity, focusing on elements of the school story, bildungsroman, and fantasy in the texts. Westman argues that the books’ boundary crossing and enormous appeal to both adults and children call the basic distinctions between children’s and adult literature into question.

Chapter 5: “Wanda’s Wonderland: Wanda Gág and Her Millions of Cats” by Nathalie op de Beeck

This essay offers a model of how to analyze picture books. Situating her discussion of Gág’s iconic Millions of Cats (1928) within the context of developments in publishing and in modernism, op de Beeck demonstrates ways in which Gág’s use of folk motifs (in her written text, design, and pictures) speaks to the tension between atavism and industrial capitalism at the heart of modernist cultural production.

(p. 25) Chapter 6: “A Cross-Written Harlem Renaissance: Langston Hughes’s The Dream Keeper” by Katharine Capshaw Smith

Smith 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 Hughes’s The Dream Keeper (1932). Attending to the dynamics of literary production for African American writers in the 1920s and 1930s, she argues that both literature and children were crucial vehicles for social change.

Chapter 7: “Dumbo, Disney, and Difference: Walt Disney Productions and Film as Children’s Literature” by Nicholas Sammond

Sammond explores ways in which Walt Disney created a cinematic empire by selling his creations as “good for children.” He did so by linking them to classic children’s literature and by incorporating popular child-rearing wisdom. Sammond analyzes ways in which the animated film Dumbo (1941) functioned both as a form of and in dialog with World War II–era child-rearing advice.

Chapter 8: “Redrawing the Comic Strip Child: Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts as Cross-Writing” by Charles Hatfield

Hatfield describes the formal similarities and distinctions between comic strips and narrative children’s books, exploring the historical development of the “comic-strip child,” especially in the context of the Peanuts strip (1950–2000). Charles M. Schulz’s vision and aesthetic in Peanuts, he argues, were fundamental to the construction of childhood in the postwar era.

(p. 26) Chapter 9: “The Cat in the Hippie: Dr. Seuss, Nonsense, the Carnivalesque, and the Sixties Rebel” by Kevin Shortsleeve

Shortsleeve suggests that the works of Dr. Seuss, the most beloved bard (and artistic evoker) of children’s nonsense—and especially The Cat in the Hat (1957)—can be read within the context of the dramatic cultural changes that prepared the way for and grew out of the rebellions of the 1960s. Seuss’s anarchic nonsense, both verbal and visual, fostered a sensibility conducive to the New Left ideal of participatory democracy.

Chapter 10: “Wild Things and Wolf Dreams: Maurice Sendak, Picture-Book Psychologist” by Kenneth Kidd

Kidd combines cultural history with the insights of psychoanalytic theory, reading Sendak’s Caldecott-winning and controversial Where the Wild Things Are (1963) in relation to Sendak’s larger oeuvre. Detailing Sendak’s engagement with both Freudian psychoanalysis and progressive educational practice, Kidd rereads Where the Wild Things Are as a psychoanalytic treatise in picture-book form.

Chapter 11: “Reimagining the Monkey King in Comics: Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese” by Lan Dong

Dong introduces the graphic novel, as well as Asian American children’s literature more generally, through Yang’s award-winning 2006 book. Dong discusses the importance of folklore to Yang’s narrative and in so doing places ancient mythology in conversation with postmodern popular culture, highlighting ethnic stereotypes in order to call them into question.

(p. 27) Chapter 12: “Froggy’s Little Brother: Nineteenth-Century Evangelical Writing for Children and the Politics of Poverty” by Kimberley Reynolds

Reynolds reads Froggy’s Little Brother (1875), a British nineteenth-century “street arab” novel about destitute London children, through the lens of postcolonial theory. She shows how fictional conventions magnifying the plight of the poor child helped focus the debate over the “politics of poverty” at issue in Victorian society.

Chapter 13: “History in Fiction: Contextualization as Interpretation in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped” by M. O. Grenby

Grenby argues that attending to the various historical and geographical contexts that inform the setting of Kidnapped (1886) and the 1880s British milieu in which Stevenson wrote allows the novel to comment upon political and cultural debates of long-standing importance in British life.

Chapter 14: “Tom Sawyer, Audience, and American Indians” by Beverly Lyon Clark

Clark reads Twain’s Tom Sawyer (1876) in terms of the depiction of Indians and in relation to audience. Noting that the native figure is both emulated and despised in the book, Clark argues that Injun Joe performs an essential mediating function between adult and child, making the book safe for white children (and adults) both inside and outside the text by keeping the Native an outsider.

(p. 28) Chapter 15: “Living with the Kings: Class, Taste, and Family Formation in Five Little Peppers and How They Grew” by Kelly Hager

Hager uses Margaret Sidney’s domestic novel Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (1881)—the first in a series—to reveal assumptions about social class, birth, and taste in late nineteenth-century America. Starting with the idea of this text as a “classic,” Hager 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.

Chapter 16: “A Daughter of the House: Discourses of Adoption in L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables” by Mavis Reimer

Examining public discourses surrounding adoption at the turn of the century, Reimer reads documentary evidence against 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.

Chapter 17: “Where in America Are You, God? Judy Blume, Margaret Simon, and American National Identity” by June Cummins

Cummins shifts the conversation about Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970) from the controversy over its discussions of puberty to the postwar debate over American identity engaged in by popular sociologists such as David Riesman. Cummins argues that Margaret’s struggles with religious identity may be read as an early meditation on a post-ethnic identity widely embraced today.

(p. 29) Chapter 18: “Let Freedom Ring: Land, Liberty, Literacy, and Lore in Mildred Taylor’s Logan Family Novels” by Michelle H. Martin

Martin argues that the Logan family novels (1975–2001) present a compelling longitudinal study of African American experience in the early to mid-twentieth century. Taylor, according to Martin, 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.

Chapter 19: “‘What Are Young People to Think?’ The Subject of Immigration and the Immigrant Subject in Francisco Jiménez’s The Circuit” by Phillip Serrato

Drawing on U.S. immigration history and postcolonial theory, Serrato highlights Jiménez’s effort to challenge media misrepresentations and xenophobic myths about undocumented workers. The Circuit (1997), Serrato argues, troubles naive notions of nationalism by placing the migrant child’s life at the center of the national imaginary, marking a larger goal in much Mexican American children’s literature.

Chapter 20: “‘My Book and Heart Shall Never Part’: Reading, Printing, and Circulation in the New England Primer” by Courtney Weikle-Mills

Examining multiple editions of the New England Primer (1688-90), Weikle-Mills argues that despite the 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.

(p. 30) Chapter 21: “Castaways: The Swiss Family Robinson, Child Bookmakers, and the Possibilities of Literary Flotsam” by Karen Sánchez-Eppler

Taking the history of Wyss’s Swiss Family Robinson (1812, 1814) as her starting point, Sánchez-Eppler looks at the work of two generations of children in a Boston family who created their own books, many incorporating shipwreck narratives. Her essay is part book history and part methodological treatise upon the insights that can be gleaned about literary reception and history from children’s writing.

Chapter 22: “Tom Brown and the Schoolboy Crush: Boyhood Desire, Hero Worship, and the Boys’ School Story” by Eric L. Tribunella

Tribunella examines a classic boys’ school story, Hughes’s Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1857) through the lenses of queer and postcolonial theory to suggest the ways in which homosocial networks and homosocial desire both upheld and threatened to destabilize the hegemony of the British empire as young people attending elite boarding schools—and reading stories about those schools—were socialized into norms of acceptable behavior.

(p. 31) Chapter 23: “Peter Pan as Children’s Theater: The Issue of Audience” by Marah Gubar

By looking closely into 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, Gubar reinscribes agency both to the performers of Barrie’s play (and, by implication, to child performers in general) and to child audience members, whose responses are notoriously difficult to track.

Chapter 24: “Jade and the Tomboy Tradition” by Claudia Nelson

Nelson’s essay engages questions of canonicity, asking why Sally Watson’s popular 1969 novel, Jade, which enjoyed an almost cult-like following, never achieved critical recognition. Nelson 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.

Chapter 25: “Happily Ever After: Free to Be … You and Me, Second-Wave Feminism, and 1970s American Children’s Culture” by Leslie Paris

Paris argues that the example of the enormously popular Free to Be … You and Me (1972), in contrast to the rather dark portrait of the 1970s in much of the historiography of the period, points to the ways in which childhood became a utopian space of liberation in large part because of the new possibilities that emerged from feminism’s challenge to traditional gender norms.

Chapter 26: “Paradise Refigured: Innocence and Experience in His Dark Materials” by Naomi Wood

Wood argues that through a radical retelling of the myth of the fall from Paradise in the His Dark Materials trilogy (1995–2000), Pullman replaces an old mythology of childhood and coming of age with a fresh version that does not privilege innocence over experience or adulthood over childhood. According to Wood, Pullman models a critical engagement with questions about self and other and one’s place and meaning in the cosmos. (p. 32)