LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

The Canon and Child Rearing Today

on January 31, 2013 12:18pm

Upon reading the article “Betsy and the Canon,” I found myself feeling slightly disconnected. While I had experienced the often loathsome summer reading assignments, and was assigned several enticing pieces of literature in the last half of high school, that I would argue are listed as canonical works; I don’t remember being encouraged to read certain novels over others, specifically because they were something suitable for a young girl my age. In elementary school, I recall the reading level system, where certain books were color coded based on difficulty, and each student was awarded points based on how many books he or she read and how challenging they were compared to his or her grade level. However, no teacher ever specifically said ‘read this, don’t read this; beware of trash’ or impressed the idea of the canon onto me until I was at least in middle school, if not beyond.

In the article, Kelly Hager emphasizes the point that we have been noticing upon looking at the fairy tales and these early works of Children’s Literature: that canonical literature for children serves the purpose of impressing proper behavior and shaping the intellect of a fine young woman or gentleman. Kelly Hager mentions reading books such as Little Women and Anne of Green Gables repeatedly, as well as the canonical lists mentioned within those novels, and her article seems to give one a sense that she expects that those reading her article have also read these series and avidly chased down these lists of canonical texts.

While I have read Little Women, most of the books that were mentioned in the article I had never heard of. The authors I am familiar with, but I admit that I have not read many of their works. What then, instructed me on proper behavior? Was it perhaps television shows such as “Sesame Street”? How are children, these days, being taught what is proper behavior? How are they being taught to discern between ‘trashy novels’ and literature of the canon? Is there even as great of an emphasis on one’s need to read such texts over another, outside of English classrooms?

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One response to “The Canon and Child Rearing Today

  1. smmejia says:

    I definitely have read Anne of Green Gables, but I actually read after first hearing its mention in an anime in high school. I have never read the other books that I feel Kelly Hager expects her reader to know, and so I think it’s funny that the only book that might have shaped my choosing of literature I read past the prime age of influence. In fact, I have come to notice that a lot of the books I read and my peers read in middle school and high school (and actually, even now) are presented to us by the media.
    Growing up, I never really had to much guidance as far as what to read either from the expected “authorities” like teachers and parents. In fact, my parents and teachers frequently asked me and my peers what books we would recommend for them to read (most likely just for entertainment and to find a way to connect with us). My parents were not native speakers of English, but they encouraged me to learn to read and to read a lot from a very young age. I remember weekly trips to the public library where I decided that my goal was just to read as many books as possible. No librarian ever came up to me and told me which to read. Then, as soon as I had access to the TV, there would be books for children advertised on shows like Reading Rainbow, Sesame Street, Arthur, and other PBS programming. I would then seek these books out.
    Movies were another source of influence as far as which books I read. I would find out that a movie I watched was actually based on a book and then have a desire to read the book. Most of us learn that movies can only show a portion of what novels and other literature hold in their pages so there is always a sort of continuation of enjoyment of that title by reading the book and realizing the differences between the film and the book and learning details and other parts of the story excluded from the film. Even today, I am reading the Hunger Games Trilogy after seeing the movie, and I have the Game of Thrones series (a book-turned-HBO TV series) and The Perks of Being a Wallflower next on my reading list.
    It’s really funny, but I have come to have the canon of my childhood due to my own exploration and from watching TV and movies. You would think that as a child that TV would dominate and then I would read less because I already saw the “audio-visual” version, but it has worked in reverse for me my whole life. I think it would be worth looking into to see if watching certain programs and movies actually generate a readership and shape a sort of “canon” for this more modern and technological generation. We have discussed in class how films and programming, like Disney films and Oprah’s Book Club, can revive a novel and keep it in its canon, but what about TV and movies creating a canon?

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