What Is A Child?

Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of merely a descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these are the marks of childhood and adolescence […] The modern view seems to me to involve a false conception of growth … surely arrested development consists not in refusing to lose old things but in failing to add new things?

– C.S. Lewis, 1966

One of the oddest things we do to children is to confront them with someone else who is also eight, or ten, or seven, and insist that they be friends … What concerns me is the misconception that people are fossilised at any particular point in a lifetime. We are none of us ‘the young’ or ‘the middle-aged’ or ‘the old’. We are all of those things. To allow children to think otherwise is to encourage a disability — a disability both of awareness and communication.

– Penelope Lively

 

These notes draw heavily from Fiction For Young Adults – the fourth in a series of units offered at Bendigo’s La Trobe University, delivered by Professor David Beagley, available on iTunes U.

Introduction

YA is now defined as a market, in fact it’s a market that defines most other fashion, including clothing.

The crossover novel is a concept that first became clear with Harry Potter, when Bloomsbury (the publishers) realised they should start publishing this children’s story with adult covers. The adult versions are dark and sombre. This was so successful that the final two books sold more copies with adult covers than with those designed for children.

‘Notions of the “child”, “childhood” and “children’s literature” are contingent, not essentialist; embodying the social construction of a particular historical context; they are useful fictions intended to redress reality as much as to reflect ideology of Romantic literature and criticism. These ideas have been applied to eighteenth-century children’s authors such as Maria Edgworth. The child constructed by Romantic ideology recurs as Wordsworth’s ‘child of nature’ in such figures as Kipling’s Mowgli and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Dickon in The Secret Garden and, as one critic points out, ‘many children’s books that feature children obviously wiser than the adults they must deal with — like F. Anstey’s Vice Versa or E. Nesbit’s Story of the Amulet — would have been unthinkable without the Romantic revaluation of childhood’.

– from History and Culture in Understanding Children’s Literature edited by Peter Hunt

 

What exactly is a child?

The labels themselves have the result of setting boundaries: child, adolescent, teenager, young adult.

Historically, during the Renaissance (1400s onwards), society’s thinking changed hugely, starting with religion, into ideas of government. Art changed, music changed. All of these things happened over a couple of centuries. The change in attitude towards the child is typified by this painted icon of Madonna and Child (1228), and conveys the idea that the child is simply a smaller version of the adult.

madonna and child Continue reading “What Is A Child?”

Genres In Children’s Literature: Lecture 19: Traditional Literature

David Beagley, La Trobe University, available on iTunes U

 

What is ‘traditional’?

  • A ‘tradition’ must follow a pattern that’s been set down and repeated over time. It can be traced through history.
  • Traditional ‘templates’ keep being used across generations and these templates are partly what make stories traditional.
  • The pattern must be ‘fixed’ in some way, which do not change over time. But there also must be elements which have changed. So tradition is a mixture of very old patterns and new variations. Without variations it’s not a tradition but a ‘repetition’.
  • Much of traditional literature derives from the oral tradition.
  • The printing press worked to fix a single version of a story, when in fact they tend to evolve. (In so many cases we think of the Disney version.) Modern marketing and publishing leads the audience to think of one particular version of a story.

Folksongs

  • Happy Birthday To You
  • He’s A Jolly Good Fellow
  • In Australia a lot of them derive from military songs. For example Melbourne’s Grand Old Flag is taken from an American song. Collingwood Forever was a marching song from the Boer War.
  • So many of these are a cultural marker, used to help define a particular group because they derive from a shared history. The Brothers Grimm collected a huge number of stories particularly from the Germanic countries (there was no country called ‘Germany’ back then. There were lots of separate Germanic states and each state was a separate country.) The Grimm brothers were trying to bring these groups together with a shared culture. Eventually they came together as Germany. [Was it the folktales, then? Ha ha]

 

Folktales

  • A folktale is the ‘generic’ tale that is used for all the tales/puns/jokes etc that can be lumped together, garnered from the oral tradition.
  • Folklore includes superstitions/remedies/old wives’ tales.
  • There are various categories of these.
  • Lots of beast stories.
  • Fools and Innocents: Jack and the Beanstalk, [Simple Simon], Brer Rabbit, Anansi (a spider in African lore)
  • Pourquoi Stories: how and why things happen. [pourquoi means ‘why’ in French]
  • Domestic Stories: The Elves and the Shoemaker
  • Human Traits: King Midas, Icarus, [The Emperor’s New Clothes]
  • Moral Warnings

Fairytales

  • Fairytales are a subset of folktales.
  • Fairytales include fantasy. Think of ‘faery’ as a place or a state, which was its original use. A fairytale is set in this parallel fantasy world.

Myths and Legends

  • A myth is a story that explains the world. Many derive from early religions because they were the best explanation people could come up with at the time, with the evidence they had. These are not for entertainment, originally made up to explain how the world came about.
  • A legend is usually about a single person (sometimes groups), but focuses on the lives of individual people. These people might not be real. Robin Hood, Joan of Arc, Ulysses are all characters who make certain groups proud to be a part of that group. In Australia we have The Man From Snowy River and similar, which perpetuates a particular image of Australia. Legends can be misused. (See: The Nazis.) [See again, Deconstructing The Hero by Marjery Hourihan.]
  • Myths and legends all derive from reality and all function to explain the world to a particular culture.
  • Related: See my post What Is Mythic Structure?

 

Nursery Rhymes

  • These are often a child’s first experience of literature. [But is that still the case? Do modern children still have old nursery rhymes read to them?]
  • There are now nursery rhymes which have been ‘authored’. (We know who wrote Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.)
  • Nursery rhymes are a huge mess of the created, adapted, the melodied. These exist for the purpose of play.