In class on Thursday, January 12th we discussed our assigned reading. The reading, assigned as “Changes Over Time: Society’s View of the Child,” was a historical representation of the style and flavor of children’s literature over the last five or six centuries. The excerpt takes into account the religious context of the time as well as economic factors affecting children and families over the same time period. Also discussed is the intentions of some of the authors writing in each new tide of thought and style.
The assigned reading is a chapter from a book entitled, “Introduction to Children’s Literature'” and was written by Joan I. Glazer. Glazer begins the chapter by telling a story of a small town meeting discussing the books that the town’s young children are reading and if the selection in the local library is fit for young children to be reading. Glazer uses the introduction to beg the question, what should a child be reading?
This is a question of censorship. The townsfolk enter into a discussion of what is and is not proper for young minds to be exposed to, some individuals seeking to ban books, and by extension ideas, that do not fit into their own views. Other individuals strive to defend the right of authors and artists to express their own set of values and ideas, and that the proliferation of multiple views and ideas is good for the growth and advancement of society. Some feel that there are themes in the selection of children’s literature available at the local library are not appropriate for young, growing minds. Others among the group feel that the existence of multiple family types and views demands that the children be made aware of them and their importance.
Glazer begins her historical discussion of children’s literature with the advent of the printing press in the 1500’s. She references that the advent of the press and its affect on the spreading of literature and ideas creates a tension between differing viewpoints. The first category of literature she takes a deeper look into is the Puritanical outlook, prevalent in the 1670’s.
As discussed in class, the Puritans viewed children as merely small adults. They were considered the same as adults, but with the need of education and thus, saving. Puritans used literature for such ends. The books and stories that were read to and by children taught the children about what to do and not to do. These books were a tool to save young boys’ and girls’ souls. The stories were filled with morals and lessons that were designed to aid parents in teaching their children religious rules and tenets. They were filled with fire and brimstone, cautionary tales to trike fear of God into the young hearts.
Over the course of the next one hundred years or so, there was a transition from “Child in Need of Salvation” to “Child as a Sensible Student.” This period also saw the first instances of Children’s Literature as a marketable good on which to be focused. The businessman, John Newbury, saw the burgeoning of a market for books and stories to be geared for youngsters. His shop began to sell books marketed directly to children. They were still very much meant to be instructional.
In the mid 1860’s we entered another transition. “Children Out of School,” describes a period of much more stylistic freedom. It also began to look at books, and literature for children with an eye on entertainment and pleasure. While many books were still instructional and lesson leaden, there was a movement towards reading for fun. Books began to lose such a strong need for the moral. Lewis Carrol livened thing right up with his book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and he challenged the structure of children’s literature up to that point. This also came about as a reaction to the change in the status of children. The industrial revolution ushered in a wave of economic success and advancement. This meant the market for leisure literature also expanded and more money could be invested in children’s libraries and books needed to be written to fill those libraries. Alice spent a time in a goofy and fantastical land with characters who offered no advice on growth or growing up. She did not evolve, she simple enjoyed her adventures.
After the First World War we saw a shift further in children’s literature. Book sellers and writers looked at children as consumers and realized the affect they had on the spending habits of their parents. Publishers began to focus whole departments on the development and curation of children’s books and genres. This greatly expanded the scope and reach of literature focused in on young readers.
Currently, and in the last twenty or so years, we are seeing a new transition being made in children’s literature. The advent and explosion of the internet and technology has connected the author and reader like never before. We are seeing interconnectedness and globalization skyrocket. These advancements bring more and more children onto the global stage. The direction of children’s literature is changing and trying to adapt to thrive in a world more open and expressive than ever.
In class we also began to discuss the literary elements seen in Children’s Literature. Like all other storytelling, there are elements like setting, theme, style, characterization, and plot. These elements may take on a more simple scope than those geared towards more advanced readers, but are no less important. The help to guide the reader and fascinate the mind. Each has its place and value for the education and entertainment of young children everywhere.