LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

The Childhood Celebrity?

When we think of novels based around certain children, we might think of the dreaded child celebrity that has started to sweep across the world. Today, more and more kids are trying to claim the spotlight and generate some sort of fame through any sort of outlet. This topic made me think of certain children from the novels we have discussed in class like the Llewelyn Davies boys from the Peter Pan stories or Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh. But what we see from these children is a drastic 180 degree flip from how children today react to the fame and recognition.

I find it fascinating that today children like Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson are celebrate as Harry Potter and Hermione but embrace the fame and fortune. They were not teased or picked at for embracing the characters from the famous novels; no they loved it! So why is it different for the children of the novels we have read? It could definitely be the large generational gap from then until now. Obviously there was not a large “Hollywood” glamorization or novels being made into movies. But still, I know that if I was a child, I would love having stories written about me! But at the same time, there could have been enormous pressure from fans to live like the characters from the novels.

So what made these children hide from the world? I cannot give an answer. But the stark contradiction of today’s celebrity children status compared to that of Christopher Robin’s time is totally different. If we still lived in a society where celebrity status was not being craved for every small thing, how strange would our world be? Just some food for thought!

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Kids Will Be Kids…

When reading The Five Children and It, I personally enjoyed how much the kids were depicted as real children with real desires. We have previously discussed throughout the course of how much children were idolized as little innocent beings that had almost angel-like qualities. They were unrealistic because their characters were written by an adult who desired for children to act a certain way. Nesbit on the other hand flipped the Victorians on their head with this novel. She received much critique for portraying the children in her novel as real; which in today’s world seems slightly ridiculous, but she was breaking the mold.

When it came to the wishes of the kids, their wishes were very real for what a child might want. I picture the Victorians expecting children to wish for perfect manners, the ability to read as many books as possible, or to always be obedient to their parents. But Edith Nesbit accurately sees children for who they are, and that’s big dreamers with realistic expectations. The children keep asking the Pssamead for food, which if I was to put myself back in my 8 year old state of mind, I would have asked for the same thing! Especially if I was hungry enough! Also, the wish to fly made perfect sense when climbing in to the mind of a child.

In other words, the change from the Victorian era to the Edwardian did wonders for children’s literature. No longer was the child expected to have morals constantly thrown at them, but they were able to be a child and enjoy their life. Edith Nesbit was one of the firsts who started to embrace that and show adults that a child’s life should not be perfection and lessons but fun with some learning.

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Classics

In class we talked about if a novel could be considered a classic if there was a popular fan base and the book was enjoyable to read. Many people see The Wizard of Oz like Twilight or Harry Potter even, but I believe we should examine this further. What is a classic anyways? We read novels like Pride and Prejudice, Robinson Crusoe, or David Copperfield and think that because they might be somewhat dry or for an older audience that they embody the qualities that make a classic novel. But I believe that The Wizard of Oz fits into the category.

Even though Baum was ahead of his time with his series by making memorabilia, he is no different than say Jane Austen. She might not have advertised like Baum did, but today her novels are immensely popular, there are hundreds of book clubs and societies in her name; so does this make her work any less credible? Absolutely not. Thus, I believe that Baum’s work in The Wizard of Oz is definitely a classic! When reading the novel, the world created was incredible! He might have drawn from Carroll, but his ideas were inventive. One of the largest characters in the novel, the Wizard, was in fact only a con man tricking the people into thinking he was granting their wishes. I believe that Baum was genius for coming up with a back story like that.

All in all, the novel allows children to explore new worlds and expand their creativity. There is a large following of the book, but it is appropriate because the book deserves recognition. Even though he profited greatly from the novels, he is not unlike many of his predecessors before him who became very wealthy off of their works; and many of those books are considered classics today.

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Carroll and The White Knight

The White Knight was one of the most intriguing characters I read in Through the Looking Glass. But through our class discussion, it was interesting to learn that Carroll wrote the Knight as himself. This had me coming back to a point that was made which was that he was still in a child like state of mind. Being that this is a rumor, we cannot be sure of Carroll’s true character, but I feel that many points that we have studied lead to that conclusion. Through a character sketch of the White Knight, we can see how nonsensical Carroll truly was.

 

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To support my hypothesis that he was stuck in a child-like state of mind, we can look to how he saw himself in the White Knight. The man was very silly, making little sense. He could not stay on his horse, he made up ridiculous inventions and the reader could also sense his potential feelings towards Alice. But does this mean that Carroll knew he acted this way? Or did he see his actions as normal? Clearly he did not see the world of the Knight as normal, thus all of the nonsense surrounding his character. But if we think about him as a person and what we have learned through research and presentations, can we say that he was still stuck in a state of juvenile mentality? Could these stories point to a psychological issue that was not seen during his time? We cannot be too sure. But one thing is for sure, that Carroll understood how far left he acted and that he was not like the “grown-ups” of his time period. We can see this through the White Knight and the world he creates for Alice. The nonsense of his characters can speak for what he was truly like, a child possibly stuck inside a man’s body.

 

*The video is a scene from Through the Looking Glass. a movie that was produced about the book. This scene is where the White Knight rescues Alice from the Red Knight. I hope you enjoy!

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Correct Collodi?

We have all been introduced to the Victorian children’s novel and how the authors used morals to lead children in the direction of obedience. But when reading Pinocchio by Carl Collodi we see his extreme views of what is expected of children. His main character Pinocchio represents the rotten little boy who misbehaves and only thinks of himself. Collodi view most children, especially boys as these outrageous little monsters. Then there is the opposing view of children during the time; the thought that children were little angels corrupted by their parents and the surrounding world. Many critics believe that he had a rather skewed outlook on children and how they should behave. But did he really?

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Yes, some punishments that Pinocchio received were extremely harsh; for example he being thrown in jail on account of he let the burglar rob him. I personally was horrified at that and felt bad for his character. Being that he was a mere child was not means to lock him in prison. But he did deserve to be punished for the wrong things he did. Collodi was correct in his belief that children need to be properly punished for what they did wrong; he wanted to call out the parents of the rotten children and show them that by treating their children like little, innocent cherubs that they could turn out just like Pinocchio. But how should children be treated? When I become a parent, I do not know if I would let my child read this novel. Even though there are great lessons to be learned, some of the tales could frighten young children. We learned that Collodi changed the vulgar ending of Pinocchio being hung for his crimes of being a bad child, and that was a smart move. We should not be preaching to children that if they mess up that they will suffer the most severe of consequences like Collodi believed. But we should allow them to make mistakes and guide them in the right direction to help them not falter again.

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For the Future Educators…

Our class discussion on Tuesday really sparked some provoking thoughts in my head as to my future as an educator. I keep finding myself coming back to the discussion of what is appropriate to teach a child? What is appropriate to let them read? What morals should we allow them to understand and practice? All of these things I am going to be applying to my practice of teaching within this next year. So that’s just it; did Charles Kingsley have the right idea about mixing science, religion and imagination in his novel The Water Babies?

When I think about my future classroom, I think about having a well-rounded environment that provokes creativity, challenges the mind and also helps the children shape their future. Thus, I believe it is appropriate to mix a variety of topics into teaching children. We might think that because they are younger and have less life experience that they should not be exposed to a mixture of elements at one time because they could become confused. But if that is the case, then we are just like the parents that Kingsley was making fun of. Why shouldn’t we introduce religion and science? The theory of evolution does not fit with the teachings of the Bible, but that does not mean that religion lacks science. And the same goes with the realm of magical beings. They might not exist but why would we try and take away the imagination of a child? My tone may be harsh, but really think about these questions. Even if you are not to be an educator, you might have children one day. Would you want to limit their thinking?

The Water Babies is a great narrative to teach children many lessons. Tom started off as the unfortunate chimney sweep who ended up as a mystical water baby with a life much better than the one he had before. To a child, that is magical and mysterious. Kingsley makes learning fun in his novel. I know that when I stand in front of a classroom of eight year olds, they are going to be much more interested in learning about sea life and science through a book like The Water Babies then reading from a dry text book. I believe that by thinking the way that Charles Kingsley did when writing this novel, those of us who are becoming teachers can try to incorporate some of his methods into our own.

So really I am trying to get our class to think further about the discussion that was presented on Tuesday. I feel that the questions we asked were things we do not think about on a regular basis, but maybe we should. Think of yourself as a future teacher and would you be afraid to combine things like science, religion and imagination into your classroom and the minds of your students?

 

 

I also found this clip on YouTube that is from the 1978 version of The Water Babies movie! Its cheesy, but still makes what we read in class come to life! Hope you enjoy!

 

 

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Hi!

Hey ya’ll I’m Kaley Nesvacil and I am from Lakeland, FL which is in between Tampa and Orlando. I am a fourth year English major with a Professional Teaching minor. I am graduating in December and I plan on either becoming an elementary teacher or starting an English school at a church in Jaco, Costa Rica.

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I decided to take The Golden Age of Children’s Literature because I wanted to learn about books that I could possibly be using in my curriculum during the future. Being that I want to teach elementary school I thought it would be a good idea to familiarize myself with classic children’s books. I also am taking this class to meet my graduation requirements. But at least I am able to take a fun class to fulfill that need! I hope to gain knowledge in what is acceptable for children to read today. I want my students and future children to be able to enjoy reading with a book that stands the tests of time. 

The book I look forward to reading the most is actually the one we are reading this week. I love fairy tales like The Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, and Cinderella; reading different versions of the stories is fascinating. Reading it so far has been fun  because the stories are completely different from the sugar-coated Disney tales and it has been very refreshing!  I must say the part of the syllabus I am not looking forward to is reading some of the critical articles. I am not much of a non-fiction reader so the notion of having to read a non-fiction article each week is not very exciting to me. But I am hoping to learn something from it.

When I think of children’s literature I think of books like Cat in the Hat, Junie B. Jones, Clifford the Big Red Dog, and The Boxcar Children or books that I was interested in as a child. But thinking back on those short stories and small novels, I have realized that they are full of adventure and fun things but many times give a moral lesson at the end. The character always evolves at the end of the novel and learns something about life. When I think of the term “children’s literature” I think of books for children that inspire imagination but also good judgement and small life lessons. As for “golden age” I believe this refers to the time period when many of the famous stories we have read were written and published. I think it was the apex of children’s literature, the time when the “classics” were read by children all over Western civilization.

 

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