The Cultural Construction of Children's Literature in America
The popularity of the Harry Potter books among adults and the critical acclaim these young adult fantasies have received may seem like a novel literary phenomenon. In the nineteenth century, however, readers considered both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as works of literature equally for children and adults; only later was the former relegated to the category of "boys' books" while the latter, even as it was canonized, came frequently to be regarded as unsuitable for young readers. Adults—women and men—wept over Little Women. And America's most prestigious literary journals regularly reviewed books written for both children and their parents. This egalitarian approach to children's literature changed with the emergence of literary studies as a scholarly discipline at the turn of the twentieth century. Academics considered children's books an inferior literature and beneath serious consideration.
In Kiddie Lit, Beverly Lyon Clark explores the marginalization of children's literature in America—and its recent possible reintegration—both within the academy and by the mainstream critical establishment. Tracing the reception of works by Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Lewis Carroll, Frances Hodgson Burnett, L. Frank Baum, Walt Disney, and J. K. Rowling, Clark reveals fundamental shifts in the assessment of the literary worth of books beloved by both children and adults, whether written for boys or girls. While uncovering the institutional underpinnings of this transition, Clark also attributes it to changing American attitudes toward childhood itself, a cultural resistance to the intrinsic value of childhood expressed through sentimentality, condescension, and moralizing.
Clark's engaging and enlightening study of the critical disregard for children's books since the end of the nineteenth century—which draws on recent scholarship in gender, cultural, and literary studies— offers provocative new insights into the history of both children's literature and American literature in general, and forcefully argues that the books our children read and love demand greater respect.
About the Author
Beverly Lyon Clark is the A. Howard Meneely Professor of English at Wheaton College and coeditor (with Margaret Higonnet) of Girls, Boys, Books, Toys: Gender in Children's Literature and Culture, also available from Johns Hopkins.
"This exemplary contribution to children's literature studies engages both general readers—those interested in Little Women or Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Wizard of Oz, Lewis Carroll, Huck Finn, even J. K. Rowling and Walt Disney—and children's literature specialists."
"This engaging book is particularly absorbing in light of the current adult fascination with the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings titles... Highly recommended."
"Terrific and important... Clark tracks the various moves by which 'Kiddie Lit' has been diminished and kept in its place, and she does this by tracing the historical reception of a half dozen or so representative works... A 'must read' for scholars in children's literature."
"[Clark's] thorough documentation of the vagaries of the reception of 'kiddie lit' proves that our negative valuations of youth culture deserve rethinking."
"Beverly Lyon Clark has succeeded admirably in portraying children's literature as a contested cultural field and revealing changes in the meanings and relevance in children's books over the course of 150 years. Her research is impeccable; her general perspective, sound; her arguments, provocative. This is a major work in the field."
"Offers a convincing plea for taking kiddie lit seriously, and for accepting the imaginative delight and serious literary pleasures such literature can offer."
|Johns Hopkins University Press|
Other Titles by Beverly Lyon Clark
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