LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Theme and Moral in A.A. Milne’s The World of Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner

 A.A. Milne’s poems and stories were greatly influenced by his wife Daphne and his son Christopher Robin.  The most obvious influence, however, came from Christopher Robin’s stuffed animal toys that he had as a child.  The toys took the form of animal characters in Milne’s Pooh stories: Tigger, Eeyore, Kanga, Piglet, and, of course Winnie-the-Pooh, also known as Edward Bear.  The picture below shows Christopher Robin’s actual toys that influenced his father.  These toys are held in a display at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building in New York.

 

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Each one of the animals in the Pooh stories is different in their own way, not only because they are different animals biologically, but they also have different personalities.  The differences among the animals are highlighted throughout the novel by repetition.  When Eeyore lost his tail, Pooh offers to help him find it.  To this nice gesture, Eeyore expresses his gratitude and explains that he is a good friend while others are not (Milne 49).  Pooh sees Kanga and wishes that he can jump like her.  To this, he says, “Some can and some can’t.  That’s how it is” (Milne 106).  When Pooh takes Tigger to Piglet’s house, Pooh briefly warns him to not be bouncy because Piglet is a small animal who does not like bouncing (Milne 200).  Then, Pooh and Piglet take Tigger to see Eeyore and Piglet warns him to not take much to mind of Eeyore because he is always “gloomy” (Milne 205).  Each of the animal characters is different and they are aware of it.  The idea that “some can” and “some can’t” is repeated throughout the novel, thus portraying the differences among each character.

Milne chose to repeat this motif because I believe that he wants to inform children that everyone is different.  Everyone should be accepted for who they are, even if they think he or she is different, or in Pooh’s case, a “Strange Animal.”  However, I believe that Milne chose to repeat this moral to prepare the young readers for the most important moral at the end of the novel.  He uses the repetition of the motif to present the moral that every child will grow up.  Christopher Robin, the only non-animal character in the novel, leaves the fantasy-imaginary-like Hundred Acre Wood for school, which represents the “reality.”  Christopher robin, a human child, leaves behind the animals, which are symbolic of his toys, representing his leave of childhood.  He represents the child who grows up and moves on, unlike his animal friends who can not change or grow up; they are static characters, as the toys are inanimate objects.  The difference between characters is highlighted as Christopher Robin’s leaves, portraying the moral of growing up.

These motifs enhance the overall understanding of Milne’s message.  Young readers are taught that everyone has to grow up out of their childlike ways where imagination, egotism, narcissism, friendship, and adventure exist.  Along with this rather sad moral, he also presents a little positivity.  Milne gives the children hope that Christopher Robin and Pooh will be reunited and that their friendship will remain in tact.  They promise each other that they will not forget one another and that they will visit each other (Milne 361).  For the adult audience, Milne reminds us that there is still a child within us.  He reminds us this with the last quote of the novel: “But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing” (Milne 362).  Milne reminds the adult audiences that no matter what happens or how old we get, we are still young at heart.

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Winnie-the-Pooh Bibliography

 

 

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Politics in Five Children and It

E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It was probably one of the most frustrating books I have read in class thus far.  I so desperately wanted Robert, Anthea, Cyril, Jane, and Lamb to get what they wanted from Psammead.  However, every wish they wished for went so wrong!  The incompetence of the “fairy” drove me crazy.  It was almost as if Psammead was exploiting the small, innocent children, which would not be too much of a stretch considering Nesbit’s political background as an active socialist.  I believe that the relationship between Psammead and the five children is representative of the type of system that she opposes.  A socialist economy is supposed to directly satisfy the peoples’ economic demands and needs.  Although Psammead was granting the wishes of the children, every wish ended up terribly wrong:  the children wish to be beautiful and they get shut out of their own home, they ask for wings and they get stuck on top of a church, they ask for a castle that becomes mobbed, and they ask to meet real Indians which ended up being a near death experience.  Psammead, who represents the economy, is the incompetent, undesirable system that Nesbit rejects; she advocates for a socialist economy where the people, like the five children, would actually get their needs met.  Also, to add to this discussion about the parallels between Psammead and the five children and politics, the fact that Psammead is not the typical beautiful, idealized fairy contributes to this reading.  Psammead, like the system Nesbit rejects, is ugly, jaded, and not polite.  Perhaps Nesbit is trying to show the ugliness of this particular type of politics as compared to the bright, innocence of the children, who stands for the people of the society who keeps getting exploited and taken advantage of by this ugly system.  Besides this parallel between the characters and the socialist system and the people, Nesbit interjects her own two bits of politics throughout the book as well.  Although Five Children and It was a frustrating read, I liked the fact that Nesbit tried to make the novel as educational as possible, even if she was indirectly, and sometimes directly, pressing upon her socialist views and opinions.

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Extra Credit: Panel 16- Marxist Reading Group “Rethinking Work”

The Marxist Reading Group panel I attended was held on Saturday, March 23rd, where panelists Kim Emery and Rebekah Fitzsimmons presented their papers on “Performance Counts: Productivity and Faculty Work” and “Professional Disputes and Early Reader Picture Books” respectively.  Although Kim presented contemplative points about work as labor and its means of measurement and rewards in hyper exploited conditions, I found her overall analysis of “work one” and “work two” difficult to follow.  Therefore, my blog will focus on Rebekah’s presentation.  Rebekah’s paper covered many points in the field of children’s literature, but I will only discuss a few of them and their connection with our class, while including my thoughts on them.

Like we discussed in class, Rebekah noted the control adults have in children’s literature.  Adults write the books, buy the books, and librarians market certain ones through displays, thus directly affecting the types of books consumers and children submit to.  Rebekah said that parents have a “patriotic duty” to get involved in children’s literature and that they should be more “savvy consumers” in the field.  These points go along with what we discussed since the beginning of class when we talked about Deborah Stevenson’s article, “Classics and Canons.”  Stevenson explains that children’s literature, as an academic, is controlled by adults; the content is written for adults who buy the books, so it is doubly removed.  I thought it was interesting that she made this connection to class by mentioning one of the major pivotal points in children’s literature.

Rebekah also argues that education is linked to the middle class.  I can agree with this point because there is an appeal to the middle class and people generally want to enter it.  And once you are “in it,” you have more available access to money, leisure time, etcetera.  With these privileges, one can afford to be educated.  So, I see where she makes the connection with education and the middle class dream.  Furthermore, this argument she makes in her paper made me think about the specific definition of the middle class.  I wondered what really defines the middle class and how do people get into it if the cycle of poverty and illiteracy keeps shifting.

Another major point Rebekah made, which I found interesting, was that the consumer culture and childhood are related.  The impurity of the money can relate to the purity of childhood.  I never thought of the two fields connecting in this way.  Primarily, I read the relation as the big companies exploiting the children for their own benefits and their own profit.  However, they are, at the end of the day, helping the children and their families and, essentially the country, if you look at the big picture, by raising literacy rates.  Also, Rebekah points out that the consumers are not buying the content of the picture books; they are buying the open access to them.  I agree with all of these points; the consumer and administration relationship is undeniable related.  In my opinion, it just seems like exploitation because small children are involved; in fact, the companies are simply using the child crowd to capitalize on their businesses.  These points also made me think about how parents can be savvy consumers.  How can they be savvy consumers?  First of all, they will need money to consume; second, they will need the time to set aside to make savvy-consumer-decisions; and finally, they will need to be literate and educated on the product and business they are buying from.  In order to have these qualities to be a savvy consumer, one needs to be of middle class, which brings me back to my previous question: how do people enter the middle class via education if the class lines are constantly being defined?

Obviously, the children literature field of study is a complex one.  Economics, big companies, consumers, children, and parents are all significant factors in children’s literature.  After attending Rebekah’s panel, I was able to reconsider the notion that children’s literature can be “figured out.”  In other words, I came to the conclusion that there are no right or wrong answers in children’s literature; instead, everything is a debate and is complicated due to the number of factors to consider when making any sort of claim.  The panel opened my eyes to another niche in children’s literature, one that involves the economy.  I was able to understand, in class discussions, that parents are a significant force in children’s literature, however, I never considered the companies or the class of the parents in the equation.  The new ideas that Rebekah pointed out about the middle class and the consumers’ relationship with the administration are important thoughts to use in future class discussions.

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An In-depth Analysis of Peter Pan

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In J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, Peter Pan is portrayed as a young boy who never ages or grows up.  He never has a birthday, nor does he ever plan on having one.  He escaped from being a human boy when he flew, without wings mind you, out of his own bedroom window when he was just a baby.  Peter Pan flew to Kensington Gardens and resided there permanently; Barrie described the escape as a “youthful desire” to escape to the treetops, showing us, readers, that it is a natural and youthful characteristic to want to escape.  It is in Kensington Gardens that readers are able to see the way Peter interacts with other characters and his environment, thus explaining a great deal about his character.  The first time he arrived in Kensington Gardens was Lock-out time, when all the fairies and Nature’s creations came to life.  Every living thing in the garden shunned him at the sight of him, and Peter cried.  This shows readers that Peter may be emotionally weak or weak-minded or even the type of character who seeks out companionship; most importantly, however, it reminds us that he is still just a baby when he first escapes and arrives in the garden.  Also, Peter meets the head of the birds on the island, Solomon Caw, and he respects him very much because he is old and wise.  Solomon Caw calls him a “betwixt-and-between,” meaning that he is neither fully bird nor human, and Peter believes him as he takes on the title (Barrie 17).  Solomon Caw’s description of Peter shows us that Peter experiences an identity crisis; he does not know who or what he is or where he belongs.  This is further emphasized when we see his memories of his human life fading and as all the birds never get used to his presence on the island.  Peter felt out of place and never fit in.  To the reader, Peter may seem like an innocent, adventurous boy.  Barrie even encourages this image of Peter when he says, “But you must not think that Peter Pan was a boy to pity rather than to admire; if Maimie began by thinking this, she soon found she was very much mistaken” (Barrie 58).  Barrie praises Peter and encourages readers to admire him instead of pity him.  However, when one closely analyzes his actions and his interaction with other characters and his environment, one can see that Peter is actually a young child who needs to be pitied.  He feels out of place, he experiences an identity crisis at a very young age, and furthermore, he feels neglected, which becomes especially apparent when he returns home for the second time to find that his window has been closed and barred with his mother inside with another replacement boy.  Peter Pan is the archetype of children who are forced to grow up in the shadows of their siblings while feeling neglected by their mothers, just as Barrie did in his own childhood.

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Barrie was one of seven children.  Two of his older brothers were esteemed academics, one of them, David, being the most favored by their mother, Margaret Ogilvy.  Barrie was the youngest and was, arguably, “another mouth to feed” in Margaret’s eyes.  His mother favored David and much of her attention was on him, even when he died tragically in a skating accident.  Even then, her attention was still focused on David through her mourning.  Barrie went as far as to emulate David in order to gain some affection and attention from his own mother.  Barrie is like Peter Pan in these ways.  The most pivotal moment in Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens is when Peter says, “It isn’t fair to take you [Maimie] with me if you think you can go back!  Your mother […] you don’t know them as well as I do” (Barrie 61).  Peter says this in response to Maimie’s utter confidence in the notion that her mother would want her and wait for her forever.  Peter disagrees with Maimie and says that all mothers are the same in that they do not want their children, therefore they will not wait for them to return.  These ill feelings towards mothers can be directly related to Barrie’s personal life.  So the character of Peter Pan is actually Barrie, in the sense that both feel neglected and find an identity crisis through a disconnect between the adult world and the child world; furthermore, both Pan and Barrie reserve ill feelings towards a mother figure.  Peter Pan may seem adventurous and boyish, when in fact, he is a pitied, neglected, and troubled young boy, which readers can see through his interactions to other characters and environment and also through a connection to the author’s personal life.

 

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Nonsense as “Kid-sense” and Biography in Lewis Carroll’s Poems

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I’m sure we all know that adorable AT&T commercial where the representative asks the children if they would rather have a big tree house or a small tree house.  I’m not exactly sure what the little boy says about the big screen TV and the wire and the position where you would have to hold the wire?  Nonetheless, the gist of what he says is nonsense.  It is not supposed to make sense to the audience.  It seems like nonsense to the adult audience, however, it makes sense to the children.  Nonsense is like “kid-sense.”  After the little boy explains his big screen TV reasoning, the representative says, “That’s a pain in the bones isn’t it?”  To this, the children reply together in agreement, which suggests that the children understood the little boy’s explanation. 

This idea of nonsense as “kid-sense” is a major theme in Lewis Carroll’s works.  I think that Carroll writes in the mind of a child, so what seems out-of-the-ordinary for adults makes perfect sense to the children who read his works.  His poem The Walrus and the Carpenter represents this kid-sense.  The entire poem seems like nonsense at first: who would put a walrus and a carpenter together?  The poem has the most random combinations of characters and images, but in the end, Carroll provides some life lessons: don’t trust every adult.  This may be an underlying message to children because of his pedophilia accusation?  He is known to embrace the Rousseau ideology of the innocent, beautiful child and he is also known to have an interest in the hobby of photography.  So what does he do with these two? He decides to take pictures of innocent, young girls that embody the Rousseau child image.  Some people may have thought this was weird, but in the Romantics era, a celebration of idealized children was common.  Carroll even requested in his will that he wants the pictures that he took of all the young girls to be returned to them or trashed.  He seems to respects these women as his best friends, unlike what any real pedophilic old man with a strange obsession to young girls would do.  So, I think that the message in The Walrus and the Carpenter of being careful of which adults to trust comes into play with Carroll’s personal background.  He warns other young girls that not all older men have good intentions like him.  

Carroll’s personal life also comes into play in his poem in Through the Looking Glass: “A boat beneath a sunny sky.”  This poem represents darker undertones and perhaps some dark moments that he experienced in his personal life.

Overall, the poem uses a sad tone.  Words like “die,” “Autumn frost,” and “slain” present dark images.  Furthermore, Alice Liddell’s name is hidden within the text of the poem and she is regarded as the phantom that still haunts him (Lewis Carroll) and that haunts the poem.  The poem is suggestive of the ties Carroll lost with his young, best friend, Alice Liddell, and he mourns about it in the poem.  However, he ends the poem with the line “Life, what is it but a dream?”  (Carroll line 21).  Why does Carroll end the poem here?

I think that the line is both sarcasm and a reference to the Rousseau idealized child.  Rousseau’s innocent, pure and beautiful child image is presented in the poem because children dream “as the days go by” and dream “as the summers die.”  No matter what ugliness, sin, or sorrow happens, the child still possesses innocent thoughts like a free-flowing dream.  Life is like a dream to these idealized children where no dark images exist. 

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau 

On the other hand, through a sarcastic reading, I think that Carroll points out his sorrow from losing his friendship with Alice Liddell.  The entire poem juxtaposes light images with dark images: “sunny skies” and “Autumn frost,” and “memories die” and “waking eyes.”  One positive image is erased by a dark image, which ultimately shows Carroll’s sad feelings about losing Alice Liddell.  So, by saying life is a dream, he sarcastically comments on his own sad life that he lives without his close friend.    

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Alice Liddell

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Is Pinocchio Appropriate for Children?

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I am sure we all know the Disney version of Pinocchio.  Pinocchio is an innocent and young puppet who aspire to be a good real boy.  Well, Carlo Collodi was obviously not on the same page as Disney when he wrote Pinocchio.  Collodi was more interested in subversive literature, so Pinocchio was originally a puppet “brat.”  He did whatever he pleased, he did not like to go to school, and he disobeyed his parents or other authorities; and for this, he was punished, severely, which brings me to my next point.  Were Collodi’s methods of getting the morals across to the child readers effective?  Was it appropriate for children?

Sure, Collodi was a bachelor and had no children; maybe this is the reason why his morals were so abrupt and harshly executed in the text.  He simply did not understand children.  No wonder Disney had to change the story around to make it acceptable!  For example, Collodi teaches children that if they refuse to take their medicine when they are sick they will die.  For example, Pinocchio refuses to eat his medicine after the fairy saves him from being hung on the tree.  Pinocchio says, “I’d rather die than drink that horrid medicine!” (92).  To this Collodi states, “At that moment the door of the room opened, and four rabbits as black as ink came in, carrying a little black coffin on their shoulders” (92).  Collodi is trying to tell his young readers that if you refuse to take your medicine when it is offered to you, then you might die.  Four rabbits will show up with a coffin to put you in.  Then Collodi solidifies the moral when he says, “Shame on you!  Boys should know that the right medicine, taken in time, might save them from a serious illness, perhaps even from death” (93-94).  Basically, obey your parents when they offer you medicine, or else you will die.  Harsh much? 

Another place in the text where Collodi messes up the moral, in my opinion, is when Pinocchio gains the respect of his classmates.  He says, “After a few kicks and blows, Pinocchio won the respect and liking of the whole school, and they all made friends with him” (151).  Collodi is teaching his young readers that violence is the way to solve a dispute between classmates, and after violence, a child will gain popularity in his or her school.  I find this very problematic. 

Overall, Collodi relays important morals about obedience, studying, and several other life lessons to his young readers.  I would say that he does this successfully because almost every other page presents a lesson, and he makes it pretty obvious.  However, some of his morals are questionable and the way he presents them is problematic.  I would not recommend Collodi’s version of Pinocchio to young readers because I believe that it will scare them to do anything that may be considered remotely out of line.  I would, however, recommend it to parents who may need a small reminder about the value of patience when it comes to children who closely resemble Pinocchio’s character.  Parents can see the example the fairy sets in the book and keep note of her patience and acceptance of Pinocchio, even when he constantly makes the same mistakes over and over again, as most children do. 

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Stevenson’s Essay

 

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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Megan Pak Introduction

 

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Hello everyone!  I’m Megan.  I am a New Orleans, Louisiana native currently living in Bradenton, Florida.  I play on the UF golf team and I have a younger sister who also plays golf competitively, but she plays for Augusta State.  I am a fourth year English major with a minor in mass communications, and I have no idea what I want to do with that after I graduate this summer.  Competitive golf has dominated my entire life ever since I was ten years old, and now that my golf career is coming to an end in a couple of months, I am lost!  Ideally, I would like to stay near the sport on the business end, such as working for the PGA Tour for example; however, teaching is another option that I have thought about, which leads me to my next point.

 

I have taken Anastasia Ulanowicz’s Adolescent Literature and John Cech’s Children’s Literature courses and loved it!  Reading Alice in Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh brings back my childhood memories.  For me, it is very fascinating to re-read the same text in depth seventeen years later and analyze its complexity even though the text seems so simple.  Maybe I am easily amused but I think it is really interesting!  I would like to spread this knowledge to others and keep children’s literature from being taken for granted.

When I hear the words “children’s literature,” I think of picture books that I enjoyed reading as a young child.  I think of Rainbow FishChrysanthemumGreen Eggs and Ham, and Mama, Do You Love Me?  If I were to define “children’s literature” prior to taking LIT 4334’s first two classes this past week, I would say that it is a genre of thin books filled with colorful pictures and short sentences intended for children.  Now, I would have to say that it is a complex genre of literary works because it is written by adults for other adults to read in order to permit their children to read them.  Ironically, children are not entirely involved in children’s literature.  Finally, “Golden Age” is a term I regard as a time period where books became classics due to its pictures, morals and overall content.  To me, the term “Golden Age” seems like the turning point or an impact in our history where significant changes occurred, which lead to the way our culture perceives literature or classics today.   

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