LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Stevenson’s Essay

on January 24, 2013 10:29pm


In the article “Sentiment and Significance: The Impossibility of Recovery in the Children’s Literature Canon or, The Drowning of The Water Babies,” Deborah Stevenson makes several significant arguments.  She first defines two types of canon: canon of sentiment and canon of significance.  Canon of sentiment is “less self-conscious than academic rankings or anthologies” and canon of significance is more academic where it “exists to justify, document, chronicle, or explain, […] to preserve the childhood of those adults who create that canon and to preserve the affection those adults feel for the books within it” (115).  Stevenson also argues that adults, especially librarians, have a noteworthy impact on children’s literature, whereas children have little to no say, because adults, for one, have the ability to purchase books.  Also, Stevenson notes on the effects of film versions of texts.  She says that noncanonical texts may benefit from movie versions whereas film versions of canonical texts will “remain in popular consciousness” (124).  Finally, Stevenson comments on the connection of love to children’s literature.  She believes that loving literature is necessary in order to appreciate it, to make reading a regular practice, and to reap its emotional benefits. 

            Stevenson makes valuable points in her essay that I agree with.  I agree that children’s literature can be categorized into a canon of significance and a canon of sentiment.  However, I find it difficult to solely categorize all the children’s books in just two categories, simply because of the fact that children’s literature relies on a plethora of certain criteria.  Age, popularity, originality, economics and class structures are just a few specifications that come into play when categorizing children’s books.  Having a nice, organized list that the public can refer to is easy, however, designating only two canons in order to classify children’s literature seems lax.

            I also agree with Stevenson’s argument that adults, especially librarians, have a significant impact on children’s literature.  Librarians have the power to expose children to what books they read and don’t read.  I am the perfect example of a child who was primarily impacted by them.  When I was in elementary school, my mother used to drop me off at the library while she went to work.  It was like a free daycare center with no television?  Anyways, I would do my homework and, once I finished, I was free to roam the library and read books until my mom would finish work and pick me up.  So, I grew up reading children’s books that were directly controlled by librarians.  They suggested books, displayed appealing books, and informed me about the Newberry award.

            As far as Stevenson’s connection of love to children’s literature goes, I am unsure of what stance she takes.  She says that she is unsure “why a love of literature or reading is necessary in order to profit from the activity” (122).  Then she states later that a child’s love for reading will keep him or her “in the habit of reading throughout life” (122).  I feel like she answers her own question?  Regardless, I believe that love in literature is necessary in order to understand the text fully and appreciate it for its value. 

   ImageDeborah Stevenson


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