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About this book

An established introductory textbook that provides students with a guide to developments in children's literature over time and across genres. This stimulating collection of critical essays written by a team of subject experts explores key British, American and Australian works, from picture books and texts for younger children, through to graphic novels and young adult fiction. It combines accessible close readings of children's texts with informed examinations of genres, issues and critical contexts, making it an essential practical book for students.

This is an ideal core text for dedicated modules on Children’s Literature which may be offered at the upper levels of an undergraduate Literature or Education degree. In addition it is a crucial resource for students who may be studying children’s literature for the first time as part of a taught postgraduate degree in Literature or Education.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Introduction

Abstract
The first edition of Modern Children’s Literature appeared in 2005. In the years since then, the study of children’s literature as an academic discipline has proliferated, while children’s literature itself has moved into a complex, ‘post-Harry Potter’ phase of development in which no single genre or style can truly claim dominance. Meanwhile, the position of children, who are both the primary readership of this literature and represented so centrally in its pages, continues to be subject to redefinition and negotiation by parents, teachers, policy makers and children themselves, and these are processes in which the writing and reading of children’s literature play a significant part. The present volume is intended to serve as an introduction to the study of this fascinating and diverse world.
Catherine Butler

Mapping the Territory

Frontmatter

1. The Classic and the Canon in Children’s Literature

Abstract
Once upon a time (and a very good time it was), critical life was relatively simple. In 1986, Margery Fisher, a critic with an encyclopaedic knowledge of British children’s books, wrote in her Classics for Children and Young People:
A classic is a book with two lives. One life depends on the response of a child for whom story and atmosphere are likely to be paramount; the other comes with re-reading, when other elements — of style, of side-issues and subplots, of theme and character — are bought into consideration. A classic must, therefore, be layered and expandable … (1)
To a literary critic of that era this would have been slightly radical, tuned as it is (if in a fairly rudimentary fashion) to the actions of a specific audience: it tacitly acknowledges that child readers are different from adult readers, and judgements about children’s classics are likely to be different from those about adults’ classics. More than that, Fisher’s canon, which runs from Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902) to Alan Garner’s The Stone Book Quartet (1976–8), demonstrates how awkward these differences are: childhood is not static, synchronically or diachronically; children’s books differ according to when they were written and for whom they were written; they can slide up and down putative age ranges and sometimes disappear altogether. There are books — classics — that are for children, and that were for children.
Peter Hunt

2. Fantasy in Children’s Fiction

Abstract
Making general statements about English-language children’s fiction is difficult because there are two clear markets, in which only certain very well-known texts are shared. These two markets remained relatively distinct until the mid-1990s, when they began to merge, partly as a consequence of the success of Harry Potter, and partly due to the cheap shipping provided by Amazon. One market was the United States, with growing overlap — co-publication — with Canada from the 1970s (the Canadian publisher Groundwood Books, for example, was founded in 1979 and has a strong presence in the USA). The second market was that of the British Empire, later the British Commonwealth and Ireland: for almost a century children growing up in this geopolitical region read the same books, predominantly published and shipped from Britain. Canada saw an indigenous publishing industry emerge from the 1950s, but it was very regional, and it was not until the 1980s in Canada, and perhaps the 1990s in Australia, that indigenous publishing really began to thrive and to export.
Farah Mendlesohn

3. Psychoanalytic Approaches to Children’s Literature

Abstract
The ‘modern child’ and psychoanalysis are about the same age, and would seem to have similar concerns. In 1900 Ellen Kay (1909) declared that it was the ‘century of the child’, just a few years after Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) had launched psychoanalysis, provocatively claiming that we should look to childhood to understand many psychological problems. For Freud, this new science, psychoanalysis — the scientific study (analysis) of the mind (psyche) — involved probing regions that lay beneath what might seem a sanguine surface; this was the realm of the Unconscious, which Freud regarded as his main discovery. It was seen as an area of the mind radically unknowable since we are barred access to it: it is repressed. So we only know of it indirectly: through such things as slips of the tongue, behavioural ‘tics’ and dreams, although even the latter material is disguised. Given psychoanalysis’s stress on the significance of the early years, when a child must adjust to its parents and the wider culture, it is hardly surprising that popular culture simplified Freud’s ideas, such that, as Adam Phillips (2000: 42) notes, the figure of the child became ‘the unconscious live’, where ‘you could see it in action’. It was but a short step to see children’s books as representing such candid insights, too — and being interpreted in such terms (e.g. Phillips, 1972).
David Rudd

4. Reading Contemporary Picturebooks

Abstract
Illustration is everywhere, not only in children’s books but in books for all ages; in comics and magazines; in advertisements; on posters; on food and other packaging; in brochures; and on the television and computer screen. Though many of these outlets for illustration seem utterly contemporary, illustration has been around for a long time, perhaps over 3000 years if we think of Egyptian papyrus rolls. In its purist sense, illustration is a series of pictures connected to a text and ‘illuminating’ it in every sense of that word. Illustration in children’s books may be simply decorative, but more often it aims to interpret or supply narrative meaning that is not present or accessible in written text alone. Two succinct definitions of the picturebook (rather than the illustrated book) are useful to hold in the mind. (I write ‘picturebook’ as one word; it is frequently written both as ‘picture book’ and as ‘picture-book’, although ‘picturebook’ seems to be more frequently used nowadays.)
Judith Graham

5. Poetry for Children

Abstract
The most common approaches to literature for children attempt to define the field in terms of intention, style, content or audience — or all four. Poetry written for and read by children poses at least one extra problem: a good deal of what has been traditionally served to children — particularly in the context of education — only becomes poetry for children by virtue of being in an anthology clearly marked and framed by its intended audience. So, poems which might start out life (or live for many years) circulating between adults may well be found and approved of by a group of adults (anthologizers, editors, education advisers), who put them in, say, a school anthology, a child’s Christmas annual or a commercial out-of-school anthology. Where this differs from the rest of children’s literature is that this process happens for all ages of children, including the very youngest. Adult books like Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Oliver Twist (1838) have, of course, been published for children but with these there is a tradition of editing and abridging the texts, while the anthologized adult poems — Shakespeare’s songs, for example — have often been offered in their entirety. This means that such poems become a form of children’s literature by virtue of their ‘framing’ and the ‘reading situation’.
Michael Rosen

Texts and Genres

Frontmatter

6. Family, Identity and Nationhood: Family Stories in Anglo-American Children’s Literature, 1930–2000

Abstract
In 1917, the poster advertising National Baby Week depicted a maternal Britannia beating back the Grim Reaper, two children clutching at her skirts. The picture is captioned ‘Save the Babies’, and the implicit connection between the health of children and that of the nation is made even more explicit in another slogan for the same event: ‘It is more dangerous to be a baby in England than it is to be a soldier in France’. The elision of family and nation evident in the poster usefully illustrates both the practical and ideological importance of the family: Britannia both is the family and is charged with protecting it. National Baby Week, which aimed to improve the health and wellbeing of children and to disseminate parenting advice, exemplifies the increasing concern with both the practical aspects of family life and its ideological significance during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. As the state and other outside agencies have increased their attempts both to support the family and to define it, tensions between the two aims have become more apparent: in the National Baby Week poster, Britannia is a defender of the family, but (as a symbol of the state) has also supplanted the ‘natural’ family. This image thus encapsulates many of the issues raised in this chapter: as a primary source of narratives about family, children’s literature has been actively engaged in defining, shaping and interrogating the idea of family and its relationship to selfhood, society and the state.
Lucy Pearson

7. Theories of Genre and Gender: Change and Continuity in the School Story

Abstract
More than most varieties of literature, the school story can be described as a genre (see Box 7.1); it is not entirely confined to children’s literature, though most of its best known exemplars clearly presuppose an audience at least partly made up of young people. The genre of school fiction has certain characteristics, though not every individual novel featuring a school automatically displays these. Some of these characteristics appear in the earliest examples of school stories, while others emerge during the course of the school story’s long history; this chapter sets out to display these with particular reference to the work of one of the most popular twentieth-century writers of school fiction, Elinor Brent-Dyer.
Pat Pinsent

8. Literature of War: Comparative and Autobiographical Approaches

Abstract
The last decades of the twentieth and the first years of the twenty-first centuries saw a marked increase in the number of children’s books offering a realistic treatment of war. War is now an accepted, even common, subject in children’s books — but why should adults choose to write about war for children? Surely we should protect children from the inhumanity of war for as long as possible? Such questions and arguments arise in contemporary Western cultures where a sanitized construct of childhood, one that cocoons children from the realities of the political world, is promoted by sectors of the entertainment industry. Yet throughout history wars have not spared children: they have been both unwilling victims of conflict as well as enthusiastic wartime propagandists and even combatants. It was, for example, the sight of child victims, the war orphans and refugees who roamed across Europe in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars in the early nineteenth century, that drove Swiss educationalist Pestalozzi to create his children’s villages. In more recent times, the fates of children displaced by the Third Reich or made homeless by combat in the Second World War are the subject of numerous fictional and autobiographical accounts. These children were also the targets of wartime propaganda that prepared them for adult combat. In Germany, young people who were enthusiastic members of the Hitler Youth in the 1930s went straight into the armed forces (or, for girls, non-combatant war service) as soon as they reached adulthood; translations from the German of Hans Peter Richter’s trilogy for young readers, Friedrich (1987, first published in German in 1961), I Was There (1987, German edition 1962) and The Time of the Young Soldiers (1976, German edition 1967), chart the deadly momentum that began in childhood.
Gillian Lathey

9. Language, Genres and Issues: the Socially Committed Novel

Abstract
Since its earliest beginnings, children’s literature has been used by authors to influence young readers to adopt those attitudes and that behaviour considered in any period to be desirable. Didacticism has never been confined to helping readers to accumulate factual knowledge; rather, books have commonly also been used in the attempt to inculcate acceptable morals and ethics, as well as, in the past, a suitably charitable attitude towards the poor in the largely middle-class readership.
Pat Pinsent

10. Past Settings, Contemporary Concerns: Feminist Historical Fiction in the Late Twentieth Century

Abstract
History is ‘an unending dialogue between the present and the past’ (Carr, 1986: 30), and so is historical fiction. The aspect of this dialogue that will be the focus of this chapter is how the concerns of the time of writing are retrojected into past settings. Children’s historical fiction invariably and inevitably addresses present-day issues: even when contrasts are made between the past and the present, this is done with the modern sensibility of exploring and embracing difference. What is accepted as historically accurate and convincing changes over time, so that what is realistic to one generation of writers and readers seems incredible to another. Sometimes a change in the conventions of genre can be revolutionary: a good example is the work of Geoffrey Trease, whose historical and adventure novels from the 1930s onwards reacted against the conventions established in the jingoistic and hierarchical days of the expanding British Empire by using a modern style and a democratic point of view (Agnew, Rahn and Thomas, 2001: 335). Yet Bows Against the Barons (Trease, 1934) is just as much a book of its time and ideological context as the kind of historical novels that it reacts against: ‘today it is hard not to read [it] as a book drenched in the politics of interwar socialism’ (Butler and O’Donovan, 2012: 10). Thus there are three layers of history to any work of historical fiction: the time when it is set, the time when it is written, and any time since then when it is read.
Peter Bramwell

11. Postmodernism, New Historicism and Postcolonialism: Some Recent Historical Novels

Abstract
Written history throughout the ages has generally been created by historians who have viewed events from the perspective of those possessing power, the representatives of the dominant culture. Unsurprisingly, until relatively recently, historians of the British Empire have been likely to display, explicitly or implicitly, completely different attitudes towards those who are exerting dominion over subjugated peoples from those revealed towards the members of the subject peoples themselves. This phenomenon is evidenced also in literature, so that nineteenth-century historical novelists treating the theme of empire for a young audience, such as R. M. Ballantyne (1825–94) and G. A. Henty (1832–1902), were far more likely to present the action through the eyes of the imperialist adventurers than through the ‘natives’ whom they encounter. Although a few twentieth-century authors, notably Geoffrey Trease and Rosemary Sutcliff, attempted to portray life from the perspective of a marginalized or suppressed group, this trend remained a minor one in comparison to that material, particularly in comics and boys’ magazines, which still adopted a superior attitude towards the majority of the inhabitants of ‘the colonies’.
Pat Pinsent

Approaches and Issues

Frontmatter

12. Chronotopes and Heritage: Time and Memory in Contemporary Children’s Literature

Abstract
Time is difficult for children to understand, for several reasons. As an abstract concept it can be hard for the youngest of children to comprehend, and a child’s relationship with time is complicated by her/his restricted experience of it (particularly of time past). There is often a mismatch between children’s knowledge of time and the language available to them to express that knowledge, especially as they encounter new social experiences and move into different environments (e.g. starting school). These observations suggest that our notion of time changes as we grow older, as confirmed by developmental psychologists such as Jean Piaget, and that it has a social function relative to history and culture. While time can be conceived of as a natural phenomenon — the sun rises, seasons change, bodies mature in and through time — with which humans must interact, the acquisition of time sense is part of the socialization process, working alongside the learning of language skills and moral values.
Lisa Sainsbury

13. Childhood, Youth Culture and the Uncanny: Uncanny Nights in Contemporary Fiction for Young People

Abstract
Local Child Curfews in the UK — powers provided by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 — allow local authorities or police forces to prevent children under 16 from being in a public place between 9.00 p.m. and 6.00 a.m. unaccompanied by adults (Youth Justice Board website). If children under ten contravene curfews they can be made subject to a Child Safety Order (an early intervention measure designed to prevent antisocial behaviour — Youth Justice Board website). While such legislation has only limited relevance to most young people, it reflects enduring and contradictory anxieties about the need to safeguard innocent children, yet also to protect society from the perceived ravages of untamed youth. Configured in legislative terms and in the figurative aspects of fiction for young people from Tom’s Midnight Garden (1958) by Philippa Pearce to A Monster Calls (2011) by Patrick Ness, such anxieties have a chronotopic dimension, played out in terms of space and time, so that the child is endangered or becomes a threat to adult authority and social order if the bounds of domestic space are transgressed at night.
Lisa Sainsbury

14. Magic and Maturation: Uses of Magic in Fantasy Fiction

Abstract
Fantasy fiction is set in another world — or a different version of this world — in which magic and the supernatural are treated as realities. My chosen texts come from a specific subset of fantasy: magic realism. Alison Waller defines magic realism with admirable clarity: ‘In magic realism … impossible happenings are incorporated into a worldview that the characters — if not the reader — find natural or acceptable. . magic realism describes impossible elements as if they were of the same ontological quality as possible events’ (Waller, 2009: 21). The hybridity of magic realism means that it partakes of both ‘fantasy as a metaphoric mode and realism as a metonymic mode’ (Stephens, 1992: 248) — that is to say, it suggests parallels and resemblances (fantastic metaphor) at the same time as it presents aspects of the real world, ‘a slice of life’ (realist metonymy).
Peter Bramwell

15. Supermen, Cyborgs, Avatars and Geeks: Technology and the Human in Contemporary Young Adult Fiction

Abstract
We only have to look at the technology surrounding us to know that the future is already here, but as we still talk and read to acquire knowledge, rather than downloading information directly to our brains, and human bodies still age and succumb to mortal illnesses, we might remain confident that the future is still around the corner. Such blurred distinctions are central to technology’s representation in Young Adult (YA) fiction and, as technology moves forward, yesterday’s science fiction becomes today’s science fact. In 1991 cyborg theorist Donna Haraway wrote that the ‘boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion’ (149) and reading contemporary YA novels alongside a magazine such as Wired, reporting on how technological innovation is shaping the world, shows this remains true.
Richard Shakeshaft

16. Voicing Identity: the Dilemma of Narrative Perspective in Twenty-first Century Young Adult Fiction

Abstract
Contemporary Young Adult (YA) fiction recurrently demonstrates three prominent narrative features: first-person perspective, present narrative tense, and visual emphasis, such as italics and other variable fonts, used to demarcate narrative levels. Although these devices are not new, and nor are they employed exclusively in YA fiction, it is enticing to explore what aspects of young people’s perception of the world, of other people and of themselves, these narrative forms represent.
Maria Nikolajeva
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