Monday, 5 August 2019

What is Children's Literature in 46 questions.

What’s in children’s books? Why? Who are they for? What methods can you use to analyse them? Who decides which ones are good? How have they changed? Where do they sit in UK or US (or any) culture? How are minorities represented? How is class represented?

What is narrative? Is there anything distinctive or peculiar to the narratives of children’s books? Is there a story-grammar? Where do the motifs of children’s books come from? Have they changed? Why? How do children’s books reflect social change?

What if you study children’s response to books? Or how you could engage the children who can read but don’t read? Or how do children read race, identity, culture and ethnicity in books? What happens if you do free browse, choose and silent reading 20 mins a day?

What are the genres of children’s literature? But are there hybrids? How do children read genres? Where do these genres come from? What is the grammar of each genre? Is a writer a psychoanalytic player of types? Does the reader get to play? Or just receive?

Why were children’s books invented? Who invented them? What were their motives? Does this tell us anything about what children’s books are about or for today? How can I widen my knowledge about unusual, challenging, and surprising children’s books?

Where do children’s books sit in the multimedia world? In the
‘inter-mediate’ world? Does it slot in? Challenge? Provide an alternative space? Are its methods the same or different? Have the determiners of taste changed? How? Why? Is taste constructed?

Why is so much children’s literature interested in ‘Nature’, what is ‘natural’, what is innocent, what I’d obedient, what is not-obedient? Who decides the social order on children’s stories and poems? Who or what defies it? Do they get away with it?

What is the role of chaos and disorder in children’s books? As an outlet? Or as a means of social control? Who has control in children’s books? Is this questioned? By whom? Who narrates this? How does the method of narration control the perceptions of the reader?

Is there such a thing as ‘the’ reader? How do we differentiate readers? On what basis? Identity? Class? Gender? Are these categories entities or fluid? How do the books reflect the fixing or unfixing of these categories? Do the books construct the categories?

What is the sound of children’s books? Is it different from the sound of books for adults? Why? Is the child’s ‘ear’ constructed by adult writers? Or is it intrinsically different from the adult ‘ear’? How do we analyse prosody? Across what length of text?

What are different children’s intertextual knowledges like? How goes this affect response? Or is it part of the response? How can we investigate that? If we investigate that, does our method of investigating influence the data?

Three big ideological ‘institutions’ control children’s literature: family, school, publishing. But how? With what effect on eg authors, books, readers, parents, shops, homes? Who has power in this network?

What does it mean to know about a writer’s milieu? Does this condition, shape or determine the output? How? What are the mechanisms of influence acting on a writer’s output? In a contemporary situation is the reader part of that?

What is the role of fear in children’s books? Where does it come from? Who saves the child from fear? Who saves the reader from the fear? What are the mechanisms for this? What is the ideology of this?

If the world is bad, is it the role of children’s books to make it less bad? Why? If it is the role, what are the mechanisms and motifs which construct that role? Do any books escape from that role? How has this role changed?

Society is full of hierarchies, castes, classes along many different lines - do children’s books reflect these? Accept them? Co-construct them? Challenge them? Do some books challenge one hierarchy while reinforcing another?

What does it mean to create a text that subverts at the level of the signifier? Do signs and signifiers determine and construct a child’s world of perception? What hierarchies are there in this ‘world’? Is it possible to resist them?

How do children’s books handle trauma, distress, stress, detachment, loss, breakdown, dissolution? Should they? Or do they become part of the problem by trying to be part of the solution?

What is subversive laughter? What is the ‘carnivalesque’? Do children’s books represent these ideas? Which ones? How? Is the subversiveness contained? Repressed? Or released? Does the ‘economy’ of release’ apply here? What’s the tension though?

Are the motifs in a children’s book the ‘transitional objects’ of the mind? Symbolic toys to hold on to in order to help the child construct a meaningful world? Do these enable the child to detach whilst maintaining security?

What do we learn when we look at children’s books in societies different from our own? What do we learn from looking at children’s books under totalitarian regimes ? How did they try to control children?

What do we learn if we do an archaeology of our own reading history? Who constructed that library, that repertoire of texts in our minds? How? Why? What was the ideology behind that? Where did that come from?

Are children’s books contained within the model of ‘the realisation of the self’? But if the ‘self’ is a consequence of the interactions between people are there books which show the realisation of the group? The collective? If so which group? Why?

Freud posited the process of ‘projection’ by which we put on to others what we feel or fear in ourselves. Is this what writing is? Writers projecting on to characters? How is this refracted by the specifics of an adult writing for children?

Whatever the apparent, explicit or surface ideologies of a text, how do we know if child readers accept or resist or adapt these? If we notice ideology at work does that mean we overlook another ideology in the same text?

Writers for children have often been part of movements, participants in them - religious, political, social etc. How does this show in their work? Was this conscious and deliberate on their part? Or just an absorption of values or motifs?

Society creates marginalised people. How do children’s books represent them? From the perspective of the marginalised? From the POV of a sympathetic outsider? Does the book (or a character) ‘save’ the marginalised? Or are the marginalised their own agents in what happens?

If children are in an in unempowered category of their own and therefore marginalised, does every children’s book empower the child by giving credence and value to the minds, actions and lives of children?

What’s the role of ‘warning’ in children’s books? Warning’s a form of what-if. Is this adults imposing the disasters they can’t solve on to children (who can’t solve them either)? Are children colonised in order that adults can hope that children solve adults’ mess?

Do children’s books resist ‘othering’ or contribute to it? If you are an ‘othered’ person where do you position yourself in relation to a text that is othering you? Is critical literacy a matter of unravelling othering?

If a parent, critic, newspaper article or children’s book editor says, ‘You can’t say that in a children’s book’ - what does that mean? Why not? What does that say about the genre ‘the children’s book’? How is this genre defined? Who defines?

There are many ways to narrate a children’s book eg first person, third person, multiple. Narration can show less or more ‘interiority’, one or more POV. It can be less or more reliable. Is all this ideological in respect of it implying a view of the reader?

Books marked as ‘for children’ and are for, say, under-sevens, are in fact ‘for’ multiple audiences of all ages and various roles within parenting, care and education. So are they children’s books? How is this multiple audience spoken to in these books?

Books for self-supporting readers are frequently about the child’s relationship to carers, parents, teachers even if they ask what would it be like to be free of them. So are these books about adults? Yet written by adults. Yet written for children? Really?

You can only read with what you know. What do children know? What are experiences of life of the child-reader in front of you? What are the experiences of texts of the child reader in front of you? This is what they are reading with.

What is the role of the ambiguous, the indeterminate, the suggested, the inexplicit in children’s books? Does it offer autonomy to the reader’s speculations? Or evade necessary choices? Project loss of nerve at a time of crisis?

Every act of reading involves the reader in an act of making analogies between what's read and something in the reader’s life. Does this help us develop an objectivity towards ourselves?

If you dissect out the motifs and story-grammars of books for adults, how many of these motifs etc are found in (and therefore learned through) children’s books?

Many (most?) children’s books involve resolution or redemption or a ‘return’ to a real or metaphorical ‘home’ or a restitution of the previous disorder or imbalance or crisis. Why? Why can’t the dilemma or crisis just carry on?

How many children’s books are in part self-help parenting manuals? Roald Dahl hoped that ‘Matilda’ would help reform adults - either the adults who read it, or the adults the child reader’s of the book would become.

‘A hand on a table. There is something under the hand.’

These two sentences represent the core method of writing: it ‘reveals’ some facts but ‘conceals’ others. This is in order to encourage us to read more. What are the 1000 methods of Reveal-Conceal?

What is ‘tradition‘ in children’s literature? Whose tradition? How many traditions? Is it the job of children’s literature to find, explore, display many traditions? How can it do this? What are the obstacles to it? Who writes these many traditions? Who reads them?

Free indirect discourse in written texts represents the interiority of characters without saying that it is (ie no tags such as ’she thought’). Does artwork in children’s books often do the same?

We all experience loss, children ‘lose’ the 100% attachment of the mother and other kinds of attachment too. Stories often picture or represent detachment. Do these ‘contain’ the child’s troubled feelings in a ‘safe’ way? Do they begin a conversation about them?

Society brings us together in collective efforts to produce things, but we own these things individually - most noticeably with the profits of production. Do we see this contradiction symbolically in fiction for children? (eg in ‘The Tailor of Gloucester’? )

In ‘The Tinder Box’ we see the symbolic enactment of the destruction of the aristocratic ruling order AND a yearning to be part of it - all in the one story for children. Is this what eg Macherey and Jameson mean by ‘contradiction’ in fiction?