Armchair BEA: Children’s Literature

BEADay 6 of Armchair BEA and the chosen topic is the problem world of children’s literature.  I say ‘problem’ not because the world depicted in these works is one necessarily of danger or difficulty, but because the very term children’s literature comes bundled with the question of definition and the issue of control.

When we say ‘children’s literature’ what we’re generally talking about is literature written for children rather than literature written by children. So it’s a form of literature written by adults — not only do they write it, but they also decide what gets published and marketed and what gets into libraries and bookshops. So at every point in the chain, adults decide what children can and cannot read.

How do they make those decisions? Frequently they involve value judgements – judgements based on our individual cultural assumptions about ‘childhood’ and how it should be represented in fictional works. How many of us have a view that childhood is a time of innocence and freedom that should be protected? Then there is another set of assumptions made about what is acceptable reading for children. Hence the issue of control.  Adults intervene to decide what children can and cannot read instead of letting the readers themselves make their own judgements.

A quick look at the list of books banned in the school and public library system in North America shows just how much of an issue this is. The most recent list of banned/challenged books maintained by the American Library Association contains a high number of books often cited as classics of children’s literature: Huckleberry Finn (number 14) and Of Mice and Men (number 5) for example. Number one on the list is the children’s fiction publishing sensation of the last decade – the Harry Potter series. And at number 8 comes that other hugely successful series – Pullman’s His Dark Materials

Why are they challenged? Because adults don’t think the subject matter of these books is ‘appropriate’ for children or because the world view they suggest is counter to the one in which the adult believes and want their children to believe. So Pullman is challenged because his books are considered to denigrate Christianity and Rowling because her books promote witchcraft and sorcery. Judy Blume whose books try to deal with the reality of childhood rather than the rosy view, gets challenged because she talks about taboo subjects like menstruation and early explorations of sexuality.

I have no issues with people who feel deeply about certain subjects. I do have an issue about using those beliefs to exert a form of reading censorship on a group categorised by their age alone.

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on June 1, 2013, in Children's literature and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I say let them read anything they like as long as Mum and Dad take an interest and discuss the contents – can be a marvellous guidance tool at home. Children only absorb what fits in with and builds on their present knowledge. I’m wondering if the Fart books are on the banned list. Young boys love them and they are a great way to encourage reading.

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    • Thats an excellent point LazyCoffee – especially important with some of the newer types of children’s books which can deal with some complex issues that could worry a few youngsters. it saddens me to hear so many schools complain that parents don’t read with their children

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  2. Wow- I have never seen that list-I am dumbfounded. I can not believe those books-some of which many consider vital reading-are banned in some places in this country! Great post

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