Kiddie Lit: The Cultural Construction of Children's Literature in America / Edition 1

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Overview

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.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Times Literary Supplement - Michael Newton
Offers a convincing plea for taking kiddie lit seriously, and for accepting the imaginative delight and serious literary pleasures such literature can offer.
Choice
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.
Horn Book Magazine
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.

— Cathryn M. Mercier

Choice

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.

Women's Review of Books
[Clark's] thorough documentation of the vagaries of the reception of 'kiddie lit' proves that our negative valuations of youth culture deserve rethinking.

— Ilana Nash

Times Literary Supplement
Offers a convincing plea for taking kiddie lit seriously, and for accepting the imaginative delight and serious literary pleasures such literature can offer.

— Michael Newton

Horn Book Magazine - Cathryn M. Mercier
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.
Women's Review of Books - Ilana Nash
[Clark's] thorough documentation of the vagaries of the reception of 'kiddie lit' proves that our negative valuations of youth culture deserve rethinking.
Children's Literature - Karen Scialabba
In scrutinizing the responses of important nineteen and twentieth century literary critics (particularly mainstream literary critics), noted author Beverly Lyon Clark sets out to unearth how "kiddie lit," egalitarian reading fare for children and adults in the early nineteenth century, somehow became devalued and marginalized at the turn of the twentieth century; a time when, coincidentally, it became professionalized in academia as a separate course of study. Passionately pursuing and probing case studies of particular authors—Alcott, Carroll, Mark Twain, L. Frank Baum, J.K. Rowling, and Walt Disney—Clark reads the symptoms that lie behind dismissive mindsets to interpret whether or not these attitudes towards children's literature were based on the intrinsic value of the literature itself or on the social construction of the times. What she uncovers is that when trajectories of culture and language are the central focus, everyday words can present subversive political meaning and limit the frame of reference to views based upon social convention. She examines, as one turn of the century example, how the word "adult" and its corresponding meanings came to be validated as expressions of approval while anything "child-like" was reduced to understandings of a stage meant to be outgrown quickly; a stage lacking fundamental value or worth on its own. By exposing the scaffolding behind seemingly "natural" expressions of thought, Clark helps readers to competently situate the contextual location of meaning in ways that empower deeper understanding and engender critical thinking. Her location of meaning within larger, contextual patterns of cultural understanding links arms with theconcerns of media scholars and in so doing she offers a major contribution to an important and growing field of study. Reviewer: Karen Scialabba
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801881701
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 11/5/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 280
  • Sales rank: 1,125,651
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Meet 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.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

Contents:

1. Kids and Kiddie Lit

2. What Fauntleroy Knew

3. Kiddie Lit in the Academy

4. The Case of the Boy's Book: Whitewashing Huck

5. The Case of the Girl's Book: Jo's Girls

6. The Case of American Fantasy: There's No Place Like Oz

7. The Case of British Fantasy Imports: Alice and Harry in America

8. The Case of the Disney Version

Johns Hopkins University Press

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