- Über das Buch
- Zitierfähigkeit des eBooks
- Teil I: Beiträge zur Theorie
- The Royal Canon: Maria Nikolajeva
- The Unruly Playground: The Curious Progress of English-Language Children’s Literature Theory: Peter Hunt
- Then Was Then: the Tale of Two Endnotes
- Rival Gangs in the Playground
- Doing What the Grown-Ups Do
- Back in the Playground Again: Post-Theory
- Full circle
- Cultural Translation: Ideological and Model Adjustments in Translation of Children’s Literature: Zohar Shavit
- Test cases
- Systemic constraints: ideological adjustment
- Test case 1: Joachim Heinrich Campe
- Test case 2: Madame de Genlis
- Test case 3: Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels – the model adjustment
- A short reminder of the history of Gulliver’s Travels
- Translations of Joachim Heinrich Campe into Hebrew
- Robinson der Jüngere
- Die Entdeckung von Amerika
- Merwürdige Reisebeschreibungen
- Sittenbücher für Kinder aus gesitteten Ständen
- Primary Sources
- Secondary Sources
- Ewers’ Category of “Action System” applied to the Investigation of Social Influences on the Translation in Brazil: Adriana Maximino dos Santos
- Translation of children’s literature
- Action system of the translation of children’s literature: theory and methodological apparatus
- Ewers’ action system applied to the investigation of social influences on the translation in Brazil
- An overview of the analysis and results
- Final Remarks
- Primary sources
- Secondary sources
- Teil II: Übersetzung und Rezeption in einzelnen Ländern
- Imported Enlightenment. The Influence of German 18th-Century Children’s Literature in Denmark: Nina Christensen
- Concepts of literature and Danish children’s literature in the 18th century
- The market for children’s literature in Denmark in the second half of the 18th century
- 18th-century German writers in the Danish market for children’s literature
- The letter in 18th-century children’s literature
- Examples of letters in Danish publications for children
- La Littérature Allemande pour la Jeunesse en France. Quelques Pistes de Réflexion pour une «Grande Question»: Mathilde Lévêque
- Imitation, traduction, inspiration
- Malentendus et désintérêt
- Entre les deux guerres, une relative mais courte embellie
- Vers une littérature élitaire et élitiste ?
- Bilderwelten – Weltbilder. Intermediale Repräsentation fremder und eigener Nationen in ABC- und Bilderbüchern: Emer O’Sullivan
- Zweimal rund um die Welt
- Die Ursprünge: Fremde Nationen in der enzyklopädischen und ethnographischen Kinderliteratur des 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts
- Das Kontrastprinzip um 1900
- Gesamtschau der Nationen in der neueren Kinderliteratur: neue Formen, veränderte Perspektiven
- Eine als Quest gestaltete fantastische Weltreise
- Performatisierung des ABC-Buchs
- Klangähnlichkeit als Auswahlkriterium für Zuordnungen
- Noch zweimal rund um die Welt
- Deutsche und ägyptisch-arabische Kinderlieder im interkulturellen Vergleich. Eine linguistische Studie.: Hoda Lotfy
- Gegenstand der Untersuchung
- Zielsetzung und methodisches Vorgehen
- Die Auswertung des Materials
- Kategorie Farbe
- Kategorie Zeit
- Kategorie Raum
- Kategorie Tiere
- Arabische Literatur
- Kinder- und Jugendliteratur in Spanien: Veljka Ruzicka-Kenfel
- Autoren, Werke und Tendenzen der ungarischen Kinder- und Jugendliteratur: Sarolta Lipóczi
- Historische Kinderbücher
- Klassiker der ungarischen Kinder- und Jugendliteratur
- Zur Situation der ungarischen Kinder- und Jugendliteratur nach 1945
- Kinderlyrik als „Versteck” und literarische Ausdrucksform
- Der Kinder- und Jugendroman nach 1945
- Sozialistisches Menschenbild im Mädchenbuch
- Historische und zeitgeschichtliche Jugendbücher
- Kindertagebücher aus der ungarischen Revolution – 50 Jahre danach
- Märchen zwischen Tradition und Innovation
- Literaturgeschichte als Generationengeschichte. Ein Rückblick auf die kinderliterarische Wende um 1970: Andrea Weinmann
- Zum Problem der Generationen nach Karl Mannheim
- Zum Problem der literarischen Generationen nach Ralf Klausnitzer
- Historische Dynamik und Generationswechsel nach Karl Mannheim
- Die 68er und die Generation der Kriegs- und Nachkriegskinder
- Die Generation der Kriegs- und Nachkriegskinder als Trägerin der Kinderliteraturreform und der Generationswechsel um 1970
- Der Generationswechsel um 1970 auf dem Feld der Kinder- und Jugendliteratur
- Politisierung von Jugendlichen in vormodernen und postmodernen Gesellschaften am Beispiel von Rafik Schamis Eine Hand voller Sterne und Mira Lobes Räuberbraut: Nermine El-Sharkawy
- Politisierung von Jugendlichen in Rafik Schamis Eine Hand voller Sterne
- Sich frei schreiben
- Politisierung von Jugendlichen in Mira Lobes Räuberbraut
- Politisches Engagement schlägt in soziales um
- Vergleichende Schlussbetrachtungen
- Jenseits des Ästhetischen. Der kulturelle Status der modernen afrikanischen Kinder- und Jugendliteratur: Kodjo Attikpoé
- Die Entstehung der afrikanischen Kinder- und Jugendliteratur: eine identitätsrelevante Frage
- Die Stellung der Kinder- und Jugendliteratur im afrikanischen literarischen Polysystem
- Die Kinder- und Jugendliteratur in Afrika, eine engagierte Literatur?
- From Sepoy Mutiny to Terrorism in Kashmir: Perspectives on War in Indian English Children’s Literature: Anto Thomas Chakramakkil
- Primary Sources
- Secondary Sources
- Der Blick der fremden Einheimischen in der globalen Gesellschaft: Multikulturalität in der deutschsprachigen und südkoreanischen Kinder- und Jugendliteratur der Gegenwart: Young Eun Chang
- Der Multikulturalitätsdiskurs in Deutschland und Süd-Korea
- Ranka Kesers Jugendbuch Ich bin eine deutsche Türkin
- Aktuelle Kinder- und Jugendliteratur aus Süd-Korea zum Thema Multikulturalität
- Flaschenpost für Gazaman: Von der Bedeutung der Mediatisierung als Thema und Kontext aktueller Jugendliteratur: Gudrun Marci-Boehncke
- Was meint hier „mediatisierte Gesellschaft“?
- Das Konzept der Mediatisierung bei Friedrich Krotz
- Analyse des Romans im Handlungssystem der Kinder- und Jugendliteratur
- Die Mediatisierung im Handlungs- und Symbolsystem des Romans
- Die Inszenierung der Peritexte
- Mediale Historizität der Rahmung
- Mediale Rahmung der soziopolitischen Gegenwart
- Teil III: Einzelstudien
- Volkspoesie als Kindheits- und Kinderliteratur. Von Herder zu den Brüdern Grimm: Isamitsu Murayama
- Volkspoesie bei Johann Gottfried Herder
- Der Begriff der Volkspoesie bei den Brüdern Grimm
- Zwischen Trauma und Spiel: Kinderfiguren, Kinderszenen und Kindheit im Werk Annettes von Droste-Hülshoff: Rüdiger Steinlein
- Unverstanden: Death of a Child and Life of Children’s Literature: Jean Perrot
- European Destiny of Misunderstood: From Christmas Gift to Feminist Manifesto
- Exceptional Distribution
- Titles and Illustrations of Translations and Adaptations: Keys to an Ideology
- Adaptations for German Children
- Conclusion: International Legacy?
- Primary sources
- Secondary sources
- Nominating a Children’s National Poet: The Belated Canonization of Chaim Nachman Bialik in Hebrew Hegemonic Children’s Culture: Yael Darr
- A canon with no history
- Historical background
- A belated recruitment of a classicist from the adult literary field
- Bialik’s ideological dissonance
- Bialik’s diamond jubilee: An entry ticket to the Labor bookshelf
- Adoration from afar: Everyone’s Bialik
- The eulogy issue: Part of the Labor family
- A new perspective on Bialik’s thank-you note to the children
- The appropriation of Bialik by the Tel Aviv Labor children’s school
- Grieving for the family patriarch
- From separation to unification of two literary fields
- Primary sources
- Secondary sources
- Faszination des Grauens. Die Ambivalenz der Kriegserfahrung in den Kindheitserinnerungen Thomas Bernhards: Heinrich Kaulen
- Karl Bruckners Frühwerk Die Wildspur als ätiologische Basis seines jugendliterarischen Schaffens: Ernst Seibert
- Poetologische Konturen
- Von Salten zu Bruckner – ein poetologisches Transfer-Phänomen
- Bruckners Wildspur als Rezeption von Saltens Bambi
- Nach dem Krieg
- Translation des „homo homini lupus“
- Periphere Präsenz des Menschen
- Kindheitsschicksal als eigentliches Thema
- Bruckners Wildspur als Neubeginn
- Kleiner Epilog
- „Ganz hinten sollte Hoffnung sein“. Die Suche junger Menschen nach Heimat, Glückserfüllung und Wirkungsmöglichkeiten in der Gemeinschaft im Werk von Benno Pludra: Karin Richter
- Die ‚bescheidenen Anfänge‘: In Wiepershagen krähn die Hähne und Popp muss sich entscheiden
- Der Kinderroman Die Reise nach Sundevit
- Der Kinderroman Die Insel der Schwäne und seine besondere Stellung in der Kinder- und Jugendliteratur der DDR
- Das Herz des Piraten – eine ungewöhnliche Form phantastischen Erzählens
- Der Nachwende-Roman Jakob heimatlos
- Cooking up a Good Story in Cookery Books for Children: Jean Webb
- Primary Sources
- Secondary Sources
- Bildung als ultimatives Glück? Bildungsoptimismus und Sozialkritik in Andrea Hiratas Roman Die Regenbogentruppe: N. Rinaju Purnomowulan
- Vorbemerkungen – Indonesien im Wandel
- Andrea Hirata – Ausreißer und Heimkehrer
- „Sie wollen es wissen“ – Die Kinder der Regenbogentruppe
- Indonesischer Alltag – Bildung als Befreiung von der Armut
- Die Regenbogentruppe – eine indonesische Bildungsgeschichte?
- Between Reality and Literature. Der Gelukvinder by Edward van de Vendel and Anoush Elman as Life Writing for Adolescents: Helma van Lierop-Debrauwer
- Primary sources
- Secondary sources
- The Troyan War Reloaded. Motiv- und Mythenkomprimationen in Josephine Angelinis Starcrossed-Trilogie (2011-2013): Oxane Leingang
- Hämozentrismus – Wiederbelebung eines altgriechischen Motivs
- Hades Revisited
- Herkunftsbedingter Liebeskonflikt, Inzesttabu, Dreiecksbeziehung – die Spielarten des Eros
- Der Zweite Trojanische Krieg
- Teil IV: Medien
- „Es ist eine Freude an der Sache dabei, ein Mit- und Selbstgenuß“. Das Jesuitendrama als jugendliterarische Gattung (am Beispiel des Prodigusstücks): Otto Brunken
- Der filius prodigus als Allegorie der reumütigen Seele
- Richtige und falsche electio
- Konversion und Buße
- Movable Books: Transnational Publication and Cultural Translations: Margaret R. Higonnet
- Primary Sources
- Secondary Sources
- „Ich hab‘ das Spiel mit viel Bedacht in eine neue Form gebracht“. Das Purimspiel als deutschsprachiges Kinderschauspiel: Annegret Völpel
- Jüdische Kinderschauspiele deutscher Sprache
- Umformung des Purimspiels zum Kinderschauspiel
- Moderne Kinder-Purimspiele der 1920er und 30er Jahre
- Realismus und Poesie im Kindertheater der DDR. Zum Kindheitsbild bei Albert Wendt: Gerd Taube
- Kindheitsdichter und Kindheitskünstler – Realistisches Schreiben für Kinder
- Der Sauwetterwind von Albert Wendt – eine Interpretation
- Kunstfiguren in atmosphärischen Räumen – Eine andere Wahrheit
- Die Reise und der Kampf des Helden – Märchenmotive
- Die Reise in das Fühlen des Helden – Introspektion
- Kritischer Kindheitsdiskurs – Gesellschaftliche Partizipation im Kindertheater der DDR
- Erlösung und Heilung des Helden – Das Ende eines exemplarischen Kampfes
- Das Kindheitsbild als Perspektive der Interpretation – Parabel und Realismus
- Rotkäppchens Coming of Age. Über Mädchen, Werwölfe und populärkulturelle Grenzgänge im Film Red Riding Hood (2011): Ute Dettmar
- Zur (Entwicklungs-)Geschichte des Märchens
- Auftakt: Das Ende der kindlichen Unschuld – Rotkäppchen trifft Lolita
- Im Beziehungsdreieck der verbotenen Liebe – Rotkäppchen, Peter und der Wolf
- Rotkäppchen im Zwielicht – Red Riding Hood meets Bella Swan
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In 2012, when a baby was born into the Royal family of Sweden, the Swedish Parliament and Government gave her a christening present of two hundred children’s books in a specially designed book shelf. The selection was made by the Director of the Swedish Institute for Children’s Books and an elementary school principal, authorities hard to interrogate. Whether the little princess Estelle will indeed benefit from this gift or whether her parents will choose different reading matter for her, is of little consequence. However, the list, published in Swedish newspapers, will doubtless guide other Swedish parents in providing their progeny with suitable books. Overnight, and based on just two persons’ criteria, a national canon was established.
The list is organised into book categories: „Picturebooks“, „Read-aloud books“, „Classics“, „Nonfiction“, „Songs, rhymes and verse“, „Collections, anthologies, fairy tales“, „Picturebooks for younger children“, and „Translated books“. Already this bizarre classification raises some issues. The last category, „Translated books“, containing a fourth of the two hundred, suggests that the selection strongly favours Swedish books. This is not uncommon in national canon formation when books from own country are given priority, and Sweden is in this respect far more generous than any English-speaking nation. It is natural that Swedish children should be encouraged to read Swedish books.
The distinction between „picturebooks“ and „picturebooks for younger children“ is less justifyable: how young is a „younger child“, and why is agebased division of interest at all? Yet this division reflects a frequent attitude among educators, that providing age-appropriate recommendations is essential. In this respect there is of course a radical difference between practitioners and academics; the former need to be able to shelve books and put labels on shelves, to choose books for classroom use, to suggest suitable books to users. The latter, like myself, are more interested in the questions of why particular books came to be on the lists of „Best books for children“ and what the consequences may be. The Swedish Royal canon provoked a variety of responses. Writers complained that their books were not selected. Critics were indignant that the selection did not include more books reflecting ethnic and cultural diversity of today‘s Sweden; more books portraying the disabled and the homosexual; more books with female protagonists. Some pointed out that the choice was too conventional; others that it was too arbitrary. If the selection was to be of symbolic value, representing a wide range of available children‘s literature, why include ← 3 | 4 → several, similar books by the same author? Why such a tangible dominance of recent books, many from the twenty-first century, and hardly any published before 1950? Why a specific illustrated edition of a „classic“, occasionally abridged?
I would not like to create an impression that I am criticising or questioning the concrete selection; I simply take it as a point of departure to discuss a number of recurrent issues in children’s literature scholarship and beyond: what is canon? What is a classic? Do we need canons? Who decides what should be included in canons? Are canons fixed once and for all or are they fluctuant and ever changing?
The issue of literary canon is controversial, and Anglo-American scholars (Lundin 2004; Stevenson 2009) tend to be more cautious about it than, for instance, German and Scandinavian (O’Sullivan 2000; Høyrup 2000; O’Sullivan 2005, 110-128; Kümmerling-Meibauer 2003; Weinreich 2004; Ewers 2007; Kaulen 2007). The recent tendency in Western culture toward plurality and inclusion has to a certain extent discredited the concept. Still every now and then media and policy makers ask teachers, librarians, children’s literature critics and occasionally children to list ten/twenty-five/fifty best children’s books ever. As with the Swedish Royal canon, the results are inescapably disastrous since they reflect cultural bias as well as individual preferences.
Book titles such as Children’s Books Too Good to Miss (Arbuthnot et al 1966), One Hundred Best Books for Your Child (Silvey 2005) or Værker i børnelitteraturen: 100 danske børnebøger 1555-2008 („Works of children’s literature: 100 Danish children’s books 1555-2008“) Sønsthagen/Weinreich 2010) offer not only an extremely subjective, but far too general selection: Whose child? How old is this child? Boy or girl? What socio-economic background? What country, culture, religion, native language? Avid or reluctant reader? Moreover, such lists date quickly. Read a recommendation list from the 1960s, and half of the books, if not more, would be unfamiliar except to specialists. Not least, who decides what is „good“ or „best“? There may be a dozen diverse criteria for these vague categories. Books can be judged according to their educational merits and suitability for a particular educational purpose; according to literary quality, popularity with readers, ideological messages and even personal childhood memories (e.g. Spufford 2002). An ecologically minded feminist librarian will chose different hundred best than a Christian clergyman or a policy-maker from a totalitarian country. A Chinese list will be different from a Canadian one. In other words, such lists are hardly helpful to identify books that are universally suitable for children of all ages and cultures.
Frequently, books believed to be immortal are referred to as classics. Writers from T. S. Eliot to J. M. Coetzee have posed the question: „What is a Classic?“; Italo Calvino’s essay „Why Read the Classics?“ (Calvino 1999) questions the value of classics, while the inclusion of the word in titles and ← 4 | 5 → subtitles such as Klassische Kinder- und Jugendbücher (Doderer 1969), Feminist Re-readings of „Classic“ Stories for Girls (Foster & Simons 1995), The Classic American Children’s Story (Griswold 1996), Children’s Classics from Cinderella to Harry Potter (Lurie 2003), Klassiker der Kinder- und Jugendliteratur (Kümmerling-Meibauer 2004), Women Writers of Children’s Classics (Sebag-Montefiore 2008) or Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends (Montgomery/Watson 2009) reflects the assumption that the concept does not need any further precision (although Foster and Simons cautiously use quotation marks). The term is vague and widely abused, while it does not capture any particular qualities of a text. The defintion of a classic as „a book which people praise and don’t read“ is attributed to Mark Twain. In Keywords for Children’s Literature, Kenneth Kidd remarks that classic „is an overdetermined and elastic term, one encompassing very different ideas and attitudes“ (Kidd 2011, 52). The title Old and New Classics of Children’s Literatures (Paruolo 2011) is confusing. „New classic“, „modern classic“ or „contemporary classic“ is an oxymoron, since the notion of a classic presupposes that a text has survived for a substantial span of time – how long is a matter of definition. We may predict from our present position that a book has a potential to become a classic, but we can only do so based on our own time’s criteria, and these change quickly. The universal favourite of the previous decade, Harry Potter, is already given way to more recent bestsellers, the future status of which is unpredictable. Hundreds of books hailed by their contemporaries as unequivocal classics have slipped into oblivion, while books questioned in their time have become immortal. To say that a book became a classic within the writer’s life-time is dubious. One would assume that a book must survive a couple of generations before it can be labelled as classic; however, it is not an absolute rule, and there are many examples of the contrary. Moreover, the very notion of survival is inexact: survived in terms of being reprinted (such as „Penguin Classics“) and read, or survived in histories and other critical works on literature?
The concept of classics is hardly useful unless we can provide a more precise definition, which would immediately meet with a number of obstacles. How old should a book be to count as classic? Depending on our cultural background we might identify Confucius, Murasaki, Firdousi, Dante, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Molière, Goethe, Tolstoy or Ibsen as classic writers, and they have all been dead for at least a hundred years, some substantially longer. Is a hundred years enough to view a book or a writer as classic? It is perhaps necessary, but not sufficient. We cannot simply dig up an obscure seventeenth century text and advertise it as a classic. There must be other conditions a text should match. Is the fact that a text is still in circulation after a hundred or more years a good criterion? Perhaps. Since 2000, the Children’s Literature Association of North America has published centennial essay collections on children’s books, including The Wizard of Oz (1900), by Frank Baum, The Tale ← 5 | 6 → of Peter Rabbit (1902), by Beatrix Potter, The Wind in the Willows (1908), by Kenneth Grahame, and The Secret Garden (1911), by Frances Hodgson Burnett. We may with confidence claim that these books are classics. But what makes them that other than they have been published a hundred years before? Did it happen overnight? Obviously not. Moreover, classics are culture-dependent. Books considered classic in Russia, Japan or Brazil may not even be known outside these countries. Should we only include in the classic category books that are appreciated universally? We would then follow Goethe’s idea of world literature. But is there such a thing? Not even Shakespeare, voted (by whom?) the best author of the second millennium, would be unequivocally recognised in every culture and country. To find a children’s book unanimously accepted as a classic all over the world would be totally impossible.
The concept of „world literature“ as a set of universally accepted texts was coined by Goethe in the late eighteenth century. It has become completely obsolete with the emergence of heterological theories, such as feminist, postcolonial and queer, that interrogate it as androcentric, ethnocentric, and heteronormative. The concept of „touchstone“ as a measurement of the merit of a literary work was proposed in Matthew Arnold’s essay „The Study of Poetry“ (1909). The three volumes of Touchstones: Reflections on the Best in Children’s Literature (Nodelman 1985-87), published by the Children’s Literature Association of North America, contained a selection of children’s books believed by the editors to be the undying masterpieces.
The terms „touchstone“ or „masterpiece“ is still more elusive and subjective than classic. In colloquial speech, we may use „evergreen“ referring to books that are still popular after many years; we may speak of „old favourites“ (whose favourites?), or key texts (Ewers 2007), or – perhaps the most common in academic contexts – canonical texts. The use of the term canon to denote a set of officially approved texts goes back to Bible studies where certain texts have at some point been decided to be genuine and thus canonical. Canon is therefore based on approval by whatever authority that has the power and privilege to make such a decision. This brings us closer to a delineation than the vague idea of classics. A canon has to be authorised, therefore official. Further, canon presupposes works that have been influential for the formation of a particular culture (for instance, the Western canon). A popular book is not necessarily influential. Yet how do we measure the degree of influence? Harold Bloom’s study The Western Canon (Bloom 1994) has been heavily criticised as perpetuating the elitist idea of „high culture“ as well as being almost exclusively Anglo-American and heavily androcentric. Bloom claims that Shakespeare is the most influential author in Western culture. We may agree or disagree, but unfortunately this still leaves us without firm criteria. Why exactly is Shakespeare the most influential author? Bloom states it rather than offers applicable criteria. In his study of Shakespeare, Bloom claims that Shakespeare ← 6 | 7 → „invented“ a psychologically charged literary character (Bloom 1998), which is highly contestable, and even if we for the sake of argument accept the claim, would we then have to dismiss all literature, before and after Shakespeare, that does not operate with similar characters?
Can we apply the same criteria for selecting the most influential children’s author? Certainly we value slightly different qualities in children’s literature, not least its educational values. Could perhaps Hans Christian Andersen be pronounced the most influential children’s author of all times? Yet, as many scholars would argue, he did not write for children at all. However, even deciding on one single Great Father (as Bloom does with the Western Canon) does not help us go further. How many authors and works should be included in a canon? Ten, fifty, a hundred, a thousand? „A thousand books to read before you die“, featured on internet sites, is an ambitious goal. An extremely diligent English-major undergraduate will probably have read a thousand books, but not necessarily all of them canonical.
Most problematic: can we have one reliable measure for all texts, a touchstone? Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that an international panel of children’s literature experts supplies UNESCO or UNISEF with recommendations to compile a list that every child in the world should read, which will be appended to the Convention of Children’s Rights. How can such a panel possibly agree?
Is the idea of a canon, or even plural canons, fruitful at all? Recommendation lists, newspaper ratings, academic projects, scholarly volumes, annotated editions, national curricula and internet book sites all witness that professionals and the general public want guidelines for their reading. In addition, mindful teachers, librarians and parents want guidelines for which books they should encourage or force children to read, preferably with a strong justification of the selection. Thus while general literary canon is more of a critical debate, the canon that guides children’s reading is a powerful educational vehicle. Canon can be prescriptive. A universal and eternal canon of children‘s literature seems to be an impossible and in fact a counter-productive idea.
What about a national canon then? As the Icelandic scholar Anna Heida Pálsdóttir states: „The children’s literature of a particular nation provides a key to understanding the nation’s frame of mind, what stirs its emotions and provokes its thoughts“ (Pálsdóttir 2000, 65). The idea of a national canon is appealing as a counterweight to the universal canon, but it has its own worries. A national canon can be defined prospectively or retrospectively (Gilbert 1996). The first approach is relevant in a culture with emergent children’s literature where canon-building is a deliberate policy. Such policies may contain publications by native writers as well as selected reprints and translations from other cultures. The second approach is more conventional, implying that someone, on the basis of certain criteria, decides that a set of existing texts is to ← 7 | 8 → be perceived as a national canon. Neither approach necessarily means that all texts included in the canon originate from the particular culture, but merely that they have been adopted by the culture (cf. Kümmerling-Meibauer 2004).
For many European countries, notably Germany and Italy, the emergence of children’s literature coincided with the building of nationhood (Kümmerling-Meibauer 2003, Kaulen 2007). It is not unexpected that various parts of the huge British Empire continued to use children’s books from the metropoly and that the emergence of national literature was connected with independence movement, as postcolonial studies of children’s literature alert us to. Similarly, Latin American children’s literature emerged when the countries severed their bands to Spain and Portugal. Much later, in the end of the twentieth century, the fall of communism stimulated Eastern European and South-Eastern European countries to abandon the canon prescribed by the Soviet regime and both revive their own pre-communist classics and create new, culturally specific books.
From some basic points about national canons, more general questions of academic canon can be derived. Scholarly canon should not necessarily be prescriptive, but in practice it is. All projects on Western canon, such as the Great Books, have had as their main purpose the development of good taste in reading. The academic canon of children’s literature encompasses books most commonly included in scholarly works of an overview nature, as well as books featured in courses at undergraduate and graduate level. For the former, it is sufficient to study a number of sources to see a pattern emerge. It is also possible, with the tentative criterion of a „classic“ being fifty, sixty, a hundred years old, to see what titles are recurrently discussed in conference papers and professional journals. Thus, although inofficial, the academic canon is based on approval, authorisation from an established academic community. An edited volume such as Beyond Babar: European Tradition in Children’s Literature (Beckett/Nikolajeva 2006) is an example.
Peter Hunt is one of the most ardent proponents of the distinction between scholarly canon and the books that children at any given time really read and enjoy. He maintains that academics tend to study „books that were for children“ rather than „books that are for children“ (1996); children’s texts that were important milestones, inevitably mentioned in historical overviews, such as John Newbery’s A Little Pretty Pocket-book (1744), and books that have survived and are still read and enjoyed today, such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865) and Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows (1908). The former are of interest for scholars as representative period pieces, while the latter give an indication of true evergreens, according to Hunt. This fact must, however, be perceived with caution. The selection of books to enter the canon is performed by adults, based on their view of the suitability of these texts for children and thus on their view of childhood. What was once deemed useful and edifying may later be judged obsolete. Books that appeal to adults, either for nostalgic or ← 8 | 9 → educational reasons, may remain in circulation for generations, without being subjected to critical scrutiny; canon becomes self-reproducing. In contrast, an ahistorical approach to children’s literature may lead to rejection of certain texts on the basis of their obsolete and, in the eyes of later generations, offensive ideology, including racism and sexism. Such intervention by adult gatekeepers is an act of censorship, based on the assessment of young readers as incapable of understanding the relevant historical and cultural context. Finally, there is a distinct gap between the „adult“ children’s literature canon, that is, books that adults judge as being important and influential, that are included in scholarly overviews, encyclopedias, academic courses, and school curricula, and the children’s canon, books that have been read and enjoyed by children although disapproved by adults. Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl are examples of such books, recently re-evaluated by criticism on the basis of their reader appeal (Rudd 2000; Alston/Butler 2012).
The inflexible nature of academic canons is reflected in texts chosen for classroom practices (Benton 2000; Weinreich 2004; Styles 2008). Yet of all canons, school canon is the most elusive. National curricula and similar policy documents are, firstly, prescriptive to various degrees, that is, can both specify the kinds of literature to be used in the classroom and recommend concrete authors and titles to cover at each age level. Such range of prescriptions either allows teachers great freedom in their choice of texts, for better or for worse, or on the contrary limits their options to arbitrary selections. Secondly, curricula and recommendation lists are culturally specific. Thirdly, they are highly variable through time and subject to external factors such as governmental policies and dominant ideology, as well as practical reasons, such as availability of class sets of books. For the latter, the advance of digital technology can radically change the practice in the predictable future.
School canon differs from academic children’s literature canon because it also includes, and can be dominated by general classics, in original versions or abridged, adapted, retold and excerpted. In some cultures, children’s books do not feature in the school canon at all. The existing research on teachers’ choice of books for classroom use shows two trends (Cremin et al 2008, 2009). Some teachers choose to play safe cards and teach what they once were taught, for instance, in British and American contexts, Of Mice and Men or To Kill a Mockingbird. The risks are manifold. Since these books were not initially addressed to young people, they have historical and cultural references, levels of meaning and narrative subtleties that may easily escape the real readers (cf. Blackford 2011), and arguably even escape the teachers who themselves might not have received adequate training to comprehend them. Classroom discussions of these extremely complex works of literature easily become superficial, and with available teacher manuals and lesson plans, a less inquisitive teacher may never delve deeper into the texts. On the practical side, even inspired teachers ← 9 | 10 → work under stressful conditions, training students for tests and lacking adequate time to enthuse them with stimulating discussions. The texts of the school canon thus become for students an inevitable evil rather than the source of aesthetic pleasure.
Another danger with „school classics“ is that if they are taught out of their historical, cultural and literary context, their ideological messages and human values may appear, at best, incomprehensible, at worst, obsolete. The arbitrary selection of texts does not allow for a deeper understanding of the context. Not least, although some of them are focused on childhood and adolescence, the narrative perspective is that of an adult, and the experience of young protagonists is detached from the readers. In itself, it is an important aspect of literary competence to be able to empathise with different types of characters, but the promotion of this capacity puts high demands on the teacher. Without a thorough exploration, this dimension will be missed.
The opposite trend is to teach texts relevant for the moment. Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse (1982) is widely taught in English schools in conjunction with history lessons on WWI, and the tremendously successful theatre and film adaptations have contributed to its status, as has its featuring during the London Olympics in 2012. As this is written, American teachers choose to teach Veronica Roth’s Divergent (2011), a super-hyped young adult dystopia of dubious literary quality and still more dubious ethical values. Yet by doing so, they establish a canon which, for better or for worse, does not eschew popular texts in favour of old approved ones. The trend to choose recent books, including those tied to film adaptations, may also result in superficial discussions. Since there aren’t many teacher manuals for these texts and little criticism, teachers may be left without guidance how to make the best of their choices. There is also a temptation to choose what is popular with young readers themselves – that is, go with readers’ canon.
Interestingly, in general literary history, until recently, attention was primarily paid to works and authors approved by the cultural establishment, which in the Western culture inevitably became dominated by white, male, middle-class. With the emergence of feminist, marxist, queer, postcolonial and other heterological theories, previously marginalised literatures have received a more appropriate place in history. Contemporary literary history inescapably includes popular literature, that is, books read by a broader audience than the educated middle class. Histories of children’s literature, on the contrary, have frequently been focused on children’s reading, on what children actually read or were forced to read. The debate about reading for education and reading for pleasure has been going on for centuries, and the distinction itself reveals that the tension between guided and leisure reading is created by educators. If some books are prescribed as „suitable for children“, the implication is that there are other books, less suitable, but nevertheless attractive for the young audience. ← 10 | 11 → The nature of this attraction has intrigued scholars as well as educators. Why do some books that children obviously enjoy have low status in teachers’ and critics’ eyes? Is popularity inevitably a token of poor quality? This attitude, inherited from elitist views on literature, is still strong today. It is, however, a limited attitude; many mainstream novels that we count as classic have always been popular with a broad audience.
As with other aspects of canons, readers’ canon is fluctuating. Library statistics reveal that books widely popular during a certain period fall into complete oblivion as quickly as ten years later. Media adaptations generally affect the popularity of books; against common belief, film and television do not compete with books for readers’ attention, but support their interest for reading. Since canon initially referred to elitist „high culture“, texts perceived as having low cultural status, such as comics and graphic novels, were not included in lists of Great Books. Children’s literature in itself has a low status, and some genres within it, notably picturebooks and formulaic fiction, are regarded as less respectable still. Yet some of the world-famous comics, such as Tintin, cannot be excluded from canon since they are a prominent part of children’s reading in many countries. Today comics and graphic novels have become a highly respectable genre, as well as a conspicuous crossover genre. The fact that some contemporary comics and graphic novels are produced by authors of high esteem has contributed to the reputation of these genres as culturally acceptable. Literary classics from Shakespeare to Jane Austin are available as comics. Manga, as a subgenre of comics, has placed Japan, its country of origin, on the map of popular literature canon.
Another aspect of the popular culture canon, relevant for the discussion of children’s literature, is the mass production of adaptations of world classics, frequently as tie-ins to Disney animation (see Müller 2013). Few children today have actually read Pinocchio rather than seen the film. Classical mainstream texts, such as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, have broken through linguistic and cultural barriers and entered, in distorted form, the international canon. Whatever we think of such adaptations, we cannot dismiss them since they have become firmly rooted in children’s cultural world. While neither children nor their parents may have read the original texts, they will most likely know the storyline and the main characters of the Disney versions. These have a separate canonical status. Generally, all stories exploited by Disney have become part of the international cultural heritage, for better and for worse.
Considering the most recent multimedial texts, children’s books transposed into digital format, either as enhanced e-books or apps, contribute to a new pathway to canon-building, since it is increasingly more likely that readers will encounter a digital version before the printed book. Interestingly enough, although the question was touched upon in criticism already in the late 1990s (Meakin 1997; Maynard et al 2009), it has not yet been properly considered ← 11 | 12 → from the academic point of view. The availbility of digital books, governed by the market and, possibly, anonymous developers’ ideas of „children’s favourites“, contributes to the formation of canon. Its consequences for teachers’ choices in the near future are unpredictable, as is the spontaneous emergence of young readers’ canon supported by digital fan fiction and social media. There is no reliable evidence yet, but the new technology has apparently increased reading since technically advanced young people today read books merely because they are available through electronic reading devices.
To conclude the argument, if we find the concept of a canon, or canons, fruitful at all, we need to consider a few points of departure. A canon is inevitably national, even within nearby-lying countries, such as Scandinavia, or countries sharing a language. Moreover, bilingual or multi-lingual countries, such as Belgium, Canada, or South Africa, have parallel canons tied to the language and with few or no texts in common. Literary canon is an important part of national identity and frequently part of nation-building. The whole idea of canon is to preserve the national cultural heritage. In many countries, publishers receive governmental support for bringing out national classics and contemporary national literature. In countries without a strong tradition of children’s literature, canon-building is an ongoing process.
That said, the idea of a fixed canon is not viable. Educational perennialism has its obvious faults as it does not take into account social and literary changes. Clearly the different canons overlap. Readers’ canon is the most dynamic, and with the tendency of children’s literature scholars to pay attention to children’s preferences, it feeds substantially into academic canon, frequently at the cost of established „classics“ being replaced. School canon is the most rigid and typically contains many books that were not originally intended for young readers. Ideally, academic canon should be maintained on the basis of readers’ canon and inform school canon, which in turn should feed back into academic canon. However, reading promoters tend to be conservative in their choice of books for young readers. The reasons are not exclusively lack of knowledge or imagination, but the actual, practical conditions in schools. Developing countries are faced with the dilemma of either using reading matter from the colonial canon or having no books at all. Similarly, following the fall of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, educators hurried to get rid of superimposed – mostly Soviet – children’s books, occasionally before they could offer anything in exchange.
As reading promoters, we may wish that children should be exposed to a broader variety of texts, incorporating different cultures. This is written into many national curricula. Yet such prescriptions can hardly be covered by the notion of canon. Subsequently, canon is more of an academic concern that a practical educational tool where it is perhaps more correct to speak about a repertoire. ← 12 | 13 →
The Swedish Royal canon did not include any digital books. In the near future, specially designed bookshelves may become superfluous. Royal babies may simply be given an iPad.
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