American Children's Literature and the Construction of Childhood

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Overview

Of the many ways cultures have to socialize the young, western cultures have relied heavily on books to transmit certain social values and to cast aspersions on others. In her new study, American Children's Literature and the Construction of Childhood, author Gail S. Murray argues that the meaning of childhood is socially constructed and that its meaning has changed over time. Of course, "society" has never spoken with one voice but in almost every era, a dominant culture has prevailed. Books written for children reveal this dominant culture, reflect its behavioral standard, and reinforce its expectations. Covering the entire history of American children's literature, from The New England Primer to the works of authors like Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak, Murray explores the messages behind the stories, and what these messages reveal about the society that conveyed them.
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Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Megan Isaac
Murray attempts to analyze how social mores and behaviors are reflected in children's literature, and how these change throughout history. The author moves toward her ambitious and demanding goal, but leaves many aspects of her topic unexplored. The largely chronologically-arranged book is part of Twayne's History of American Childhood series. The strength of Murray's analysis comes in the first five chapters where she explores Anglo-American Colonial children's literature, the changes wrought by the New Republic, nineteenth-century domestic fiction and adventure stories, the growth of middle-class consumerism in children's literature, and the limited space allotted for considerations of race and gender in books for young readers. The influence of popular culture reading materials is explored as carefully as the more traditional classic reading materials. Unfortunately, Murray's exclusion of many important genres leaves readers with a skewed view of the field. Poetry and nonfiction are omitted from her study, which includes only a handful of picture book authors. Murray's treatment of the vast genre of fantasy is confusing and ambiguous; she devotes space to the contributions of L. Frank Baum, but in her chapter on current trends Murray claims, "Fantasy as a genre has been excluded from the scope of this study because its themes are by and large outside the 'real time' that links fiction writing to the historical circumstances from which it grows." Nonetheless, she goes on to describe how the fantasy worlds of Madeleine L'Engle and Virginia Hamilton reflect the Cold War mentality of the 1960s and 1970s. Small errors, like mistaken character names, also trouble the text. The concluding detailed bibliographic essay does, however, provide a rich selection of resources enabling curious readers to continue the exploration that Murray begins. Adult students of children's literature will find interesting arguments and examples here, but more experienced scholars will be unlikely to find anything new. Index. Illus. Biblio. Further Reading.
School Library Journal
This concise review of American children's literature covers the years from 1660 to 1990. Murray's perspective is more historical than literary, and this work makes an important contribution to understanding how children's books reflect the distinct historical and cultural changes in this country. The story is told in chronological order with one useful exception. Midway, the author clusters together the issues of minority cultures (from 1850 to 1930), making it easier to consider them as a whole. She included only works of fiction that she felt best reflected American culture, and in which adult messages to children were most explicit. The bibliographical essay at the end is helpful to scholars. Black-and-white reproductions from some of the books included appear throughout. Since there is no comprehensive history of childhood in America, this volume may serve as an introduction to that vast subject, and will be of interest to scholars and students of American children's books.-Virginia Golodetz, Children's Literature New England, Burlington, VT Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Murray (history, Rhodes College) examines a broad sweep of American children's literature, from The New England Primer to the works of Maurice Sendak and J.D. Salinger, exploring what the messages embedded in the stories reveal about the society that conveyed them. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Series Editor's Note
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1 The Sinful Child: Anglo-American Colonial Children's Literature, 1690-1810 1
2 Virtues for the New Republic, 1790-1850 23
3 Good Girls, Bad Boys, 1850-1890 51
4 Middle-Class Child Consumers, 1880-1920 82
5 Race, Ethnicity, and Region, 1850-1930 117
6 Idealized Realism, 1920-1950 145
7 Child Liberation, 1950-1990 175
Epilogue: Into the Twenty-first Century 208
Chronology 213
Notes 217
Bibliographic Essay 250
Index 265
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