Thoughts from the field about the study of children’s literature


We–the young 20-somethings, the late teens–are young and I’m realizing that that actually IS proving to be somewhat of a drawback in this program.  The scholars we work from, our professors (and that will always be the case, no matter when we enter grad school) are studying a different canon of children’s literature–a canon I on the whole was not introduced to, am brushing against now but can’t respond to in the same way that I respond to children’s literature that I grew up with.  The majority of our children’s literature has yet to be studied (with the exception of HP, which was such a big hype that no one could miss it) or is JUST beginning to be studied.  I am fortunate to have been introduced to some older literature that I am taking full advantage of–C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, Ferdinand the Bull, who came up in class today–but it is difficult to do scholarly research on my children’s literature simply because we–the people of my generation–will need to pioneer the research into writers less-known or more “popular” but not hype like Tamora Pierce (who I’m planning on comparing to Lewis for a paper.  Note: there is now one e-book on Tamora Pierce available through the Hollins library (your library card ID will allow you to download), but otherwise what is available, mostly, are interviews with her).  It’s my belief that this is not through lack of scholarly-ness and I think Tamora Pierce will become even necessary to research as we begin to publish and people try to trace our influences 😉 but until then….

Sadly, the film industry seems much more in touch with popular children’s literature than are children’s lit critics themselves.  The recent books about which I saw presentations at ChLA were all ones that had had at least some success as a film–Harry Potter, How to Train Your Dragon, Percy Jackson–and I wonder if these books’d have even been touched by critics if film hadn’t dragged them into the popular eye, into an art form that gets so much more advertising attention than literature.

Maybe critics think–and they might be right–that because these children’s books tend to influence us as children (generalization), their influence has really yet to be seen.  We almost can’t write the research yet.  We can make predictions, but what more can we say?

But so much criticism seems to be what lit says about a culture and literary heritage, which is relevant to the now because how can we correct it if media blinds us to it?

Also, few critics seem to be “in the field,” so to speak, talking to real children.  One of the better presentations I saw was the one about teaching African Cinderella tales and that really was more psychology study than a critical paper.  While I’m not sure that talking to children about their literature is necessary, really, in a critical study, maybe it is useful as a point of where to begin, what to study.

I know I’m young.  I know I’ve hardly left the “children’s literature” age myself (really, however much they force-feed us more adult, literary works even as early as middle school).  But I feel like these are important things for critics to think about and I wish they would.


About Kathryn

My love of books has been carefully cultivated by the adults who raised me and also by the friends who love to share. My life has led me down long library shelves, to online forums, fanfiction sites, the front of a lecture hall, and into the desks of college classrooms. With an English degree and a couple master’s classes in Children’s Literature, I am now a bookseller for Barnes & Noble. I have been an editor for Wizarding Life Networks (the people who brought you Wizarding Life, Panem October, and MyHogwarts now HogwartsIsHere).

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