LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Final Paper: Children’s Books for Adults?

on April 4, 2013 2:20pm

For my final paper, I plan on examining how children’s literature is often written for two audiences: children and adults. In stories such as Alice in Wonderland, “Little Red Riding Hood,” and Pinocchio.

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ImageLewis Carroll’s Alice novels can definitely be enjoyed by both little kids and adults alike. The whimsical nature of the text and the fancy of Wonderland appeal to children – it is a brand new world filled with magic, imagination, and adventures. Little kids can relate to Alice as she explores the wonders and awes of the new world. At the same time, the novels, especially Alice through the Looking Glass, are written in a manner that is filled with logic, politics, and even drug references. In this sense, adults can appreciate the subtle humor and adult themes. This website explores the theme of logic in the story.

In addition to Alice in Wonderland, fairy tales also have two audiences. Most notably, the story of “Little Red Riding Hood” contains adult imagery and themes that are most definitely not appropriate for little children. Many versions of the story involve the notions of a girl losing her virginity and the idea of male predators. However, little children will most likely not pick up on these mature themes and only take away the simple moral of the story – don’t talk to strangers.

Pinocchio also contains both adult and children’s themes. Little boys and girls are enthralled by the many adventures of the poor puppet who never seems to have success. They both pity and root for Pinocchio at the same time. Collodi also incorporates a political agenda throughout the novel. As we discussed in class, Collodi strived to unite Italy as a nation. Through Pinocchio, he advertises the importance of public education, family, and a career. Adults reading the story to their children will pick up on these references and hopefully adopt new attitudes. Image

Overall, children’s literature authors often incorporate adult ideas in order to appeal to both children and adults alike. In doing so, adults find entertainment and pleasure when reading this stories to their kids or if they are feeling a sense of nostalgia to their own childhood. I hope to further explore these adult references for each piece of literature and possibly get personal feedback from adults as to why children’s books still appeal to them.  

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2 responses to “Final Paper: Children’s Books for Adults?

  1. My paper specifically deals with how Alice in Wonderland should be considered part of the young adult fiction canon. I agree that the nonsensical nature of the novel appeals to children, but through my research I’ve found many authors who believe that most of Alice goes completely over children’s heads. Some even argue that children would be unable to understand anything but the basic premise of the novel. I believe that the ideal audience for Alice is the young adult because the book is basically a representation of the duality between maturity and innocence. The novel is basically an analogy for growing up, describing all the ways that Alice struggles to fit in. Her experiences with growing and shrinking and feeling uncomfortable in her own body is often interpreted as a metaphor for puberty. The caterpillar asks her the universal question, “Who are you?” and the truth is that Alice doesn’t know, just as an adolescent may not know who they are in relation to the world, or their peers, or other adults. While there is definitely some humor in the novel, as well as Through the Looking Glass, that only adults would understand, I really don’t feel that they were the intended audience either. It’s a little confusing because Carroll initially wrote the book for Alice Liddell, a young girl, but I believe that the novel he ended up writing was for a slightly older audience, though not quite adults. It definitely has elements of both age groups and that’s basically what adolescence is—a combination of the two stages in life.

    I see the case you make for the other novels as well. Pinocchio especially, I felt, dealt with themes that only adults would understand. The political references specifically were obviously intended for adults. This combination of childlike and adult appeals makes it more likely that parents will read these novels to their children and also lets the authors of the novels have a little fun at the shared jokes.

  2. kevinmgriffin says:

    I think that you bring up a really great point in this blog, and this is something that I feel we haven’t really discussed as much as I would have liked to in class. I think that people often bring up the question of whether or not a text is appropriate for children based on some subtle adult themes and are very quick to judge it based on those references. If there is a subtle reference to a theme that could be considered “too adult” for children to read, many people will often try to hide the stories from their own children and convince other adults that these classic tales should not be shared with an audience that is not yet mature enough for them as it could corrupt their minds. However, I think that you’re correct in stating that a child reading a story and an adult reading the same story are not going to provide the same outcome as the sum of an equation involving imagination, maturity, knowledge of contemporary topics, and purity.

    Children’s stories are most often written for children by adults, which explains why there are often many adult references within the more childish and imaginative stories. As an adult myself, I would find it difficult to write a children’s story without incorporating any of the ideas that I have about people or society that I’ve acquired throughout my life of growth and maturation. That is one of the reasons that I find this class to be so incredibly interesting. There are many of these stories that we read as children, and we were consumed by the fanciful nature of them and read obliviously past many of the references that are now apparent as adults. As a child reading “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” I did not pick up on the spatial concept of the layout of the story, and as a child reading “Pinocchio,” I definitely did not know anything about the Italian society that the author was immersed in at the time. I read the stories simply as what they were. However, it is important to realize that now as adults, we can read these stories from a completely different point of view and recognize many of the things that make them such classics. I’m sure that if I were to pick up one of these same books in 20 or 30 years, I would have an even different appreciation or understanding of the text. I think that many of these stories can be totally appropriate for both children and adults as long as we realize that the context in which they are read can be vastly different given the age and maturity of the individual reader.

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