LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Disability and The Secret Garden

A motif prevalent in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden is Mary and Colin’s disabilities in relation to their happiness. The novel subtly attributes Mary’s childhood sickness to her time in India saying, “her face was yellow because she had been born in India and had always been ill in one way or another.” India, clearly, is no place for an English child, though the text suggests that is India’s fault and not the colonial hold Britain has over the country. Colin has literally been stuck in a room for years so he is obviously always concerned with death and dying. Only when they discover the garden and can immerse themselves in the greatness of the nature of England can they really become happy again. One example is the classic children’s book Heidi by Swiss author Johanna Spyri. From what I remember about the character Clara is that she is spoiled and isolated and can only regain her ability to walk after Heidi befriends her and brightens up her life.

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This premise of disability in children’s literature is almost irresponsible because it assumes the notion that one can get over their disability based on sheer will and temperament. It also portrays to children that people with disabilities are irritating and reinforce the stigma against them. Characters with physical abnormalities are always depicted as villainous or crotchety and posed as characters the children should not want to emulate. Obviously the context of the time would explain why people with disabilities would be portrayed as such – they are useless in terms of working or getting married – something held to a high esteem. Characters like these would probably never be portrayed like this nowadays because these groups would feel incredibly marginalized.

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The Wizard of Oz Bibliography

Hearn, Michael Patrick. The Critical Heritage Edition of the Wizard of Oz. New York, Schocken, 1986.

Littlefield, Henry. “The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism.” American Quarterly. v. 16, 3, Spring 1964, 47–58.

http://cuwhist.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/wizard-of-oz-parable-on-populism.pdf

“‘Oz’ Author Kept Intentions to Himself”. The New York Times Company. February 7, 1992

http://www.nytimes.com/1992/02/07/opinion/l-oz-author-kept-intentions-to-himself-526392.html

Rogers, Katharine M. L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz: A Biography. New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2002.

Sale, Roger. Fairy Tales and After: From Snow White to E. B. White. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1978.

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Autism and Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland

My older brother Ricardo was diagnosed with autism when he was six years old. While on the high-functioning end of the spectrum, his interests do not coincide with most other twentysomethings so he was naturally more excited than I was that I was taking a Children’s Literature course. Surprisingly enough, he was obsessed with the idea of me revisiting Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. After finishing the work and reading Roni Natov’s The Persistence of Alice, I began to understand why my brother – someone who is very aware of his developmental disorder that affects the normal development of his social and communication skills – would be fascinated with Alice’s story.

Natov’s basic point is that while Alice is unarguably a literary classic, children are not receiving it in its original prose and rather through other mediums. Even still, its fantasy, humor, and absurdity transcend time and continue to be significant to children today because, “the work is intrinsically interesting and universally powerful” (Natov 52). Natov’s arguments, however, made me realize why this story not only resonates with children – but also to someone with autism.

Natov explains how, “Carroll depicts the thinness of the line between dreams and the waking world which young children experience, and their curious lack of discomfort between the two” (52). This holds true for someone like my brother who, most of the time is quite literally in his own world and very much within himself and his thoughts. Natov explains that, “Fun is made of the literalness of the child’s mind; it must be particularly satisfying when Carroll allows the child to be the knowledgeable one, the one who get the joke, since children often suffer from confusion about adult figurative language, taking it in its literal sense” (53). Autistic individuals are almost entirely concrete thinkers, meaning they interpret language very literally, so idioms, puns, nuances, double entendres and sarcasm are normally lost on them. For a self-aware person like my brother, Carroll’s jokes are uproarious. Finally, Natov’s explanation of Alice’s “relevant and painful” journey that signifies the, “adolescent preoccupation with identity,” is especially pertinent to my autistic individuals constantly trying to find their place in a world made for neurotypical people.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland is universal themes and fascinating fantasy make it a work that will transcend generations of children and adults alike who take comfort in the Chesire Cat’s words that, “we’re all mad here.”

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It’s a Hard Knock Life – For A Goblin

“Now in these subterranean caverns lived a strange race of beings, called by some gnomes, by some kobolds, by some goblins. There was a legend current in the country that at one time they lived above ground, and were very like other people. But for some reason or another, concerning which there were different legendary theories, the king had laid what they thought to severe taxes upon them, or had required observances of them they did not like, or had begun to treat them with more severity, in some way or other, and impose stricter laws; and the consequence was that they had all disappeared from the face of the country…They had all taken refuge in the subterranean caverns, whence they never came out but at night, and then seldom showed themselves in any numbers, and never to many people at once” (Macdonald 3).

Reading George Macdonald’s The Princess and the Goblin and his exposition of the goblin characters, this introduction passage kept clouding my hate for the allegedly villainous goblins. A reading of this text introduces the political and social implications that surround the less-than-favorable relationship between the humans and the goblins and raises the question, at least for me; can you really blame the goblins?

Presenting the landscape of the kingdom and its distinctive characteristic of having underground mines, Macdonald introduces the setting of these subterranean (a big word for a kid!) caves, which later become important locations in the story. In these caves lives a race of beings – described as strange, especially considering they live in the ground. The insertion of the different of their different labes is intriguing; do they each mean something different or are used in different contexts? Macdonald later uses the term “cob” much more than any of these terms – could that be considered a racial slur for the goblins?

Throughout the novel, I kept referring back to the subsequent passage explaining why the goblins “disappeared from the face of the country.” Firstly, no one even really remembers the exact reason why they left, and interestingly enough, they were probably like other people prior to their departure underground. Most of the legends as to why they left trace it to oppressions imposed by the human king, either severe taxes, observances the race of goblins opposed, or maltreatment. Macdonald surprisingly contends that the goblins took “refuge,” a term normally associated with the notion of having been wronged or victimized. The goblins seek asylum in the night and learn to never reveal their true numbers, their population, to the many humans.

This passage reveals the reason why the goblins voluntarily erased themselves from the kingdom – they were an oppressed minority escaping the dominant class and searching for new opportunities. They removed themselves from their suppressors peacefully and silently, and their plans of revolution and desire to return to the kingdom, while obviously unethical, are somewhat understandable. Macdonald, well-versed with how the Scottish were oppressed by the English ruling class, uses the relationship between the humans and the goblins to introduce children to the social and political implications of class distinctions in the 18th century Western world.

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Bluebeard and Violence: This Folktale is Not Yet Rated

Bluebeard, a French literary folktale, the most famous version written down by Charles Perrault, tells the haunting story of a violent aristocrat whose new wife discovers actual skeletons in his closet – the murdered bodies of his previous wives.

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Girl, I think the least of your problems is that his beard is blue.

Its classification of being a folktale shows that it was a story passed down by generations so it might not have been originally “marketed” towards children like other texts. The inclusion of a moral, and that it is classified alongside other fairytales, obviously leads to children reading or being exposed to the story. The discussion arose in class if a story where the protagonist finds a forbidden room where her new husband literally hangs the bloodied bodies of his previous wives is appropriate for children.  (It’s not!) One classmate cited that he had only heard of Bluebeard because he read Cracked.com’s “5 Grimm Fairytales You Should Only Read to Kids You Hate.”

Here’s the link: http://www.cracked.com/quick-fixes/5-grimm-fairy-tales-you-should-only-read-to-kids-you-hate/

So, if childhood is so sacred, why are we doing this to our kids? While parents probably would never read Bluebeard to their children as a bedtime story, they would read or allow their children to read equally violent stories. Children’s stories and fairytales are riddled with swordfights, bewitched hot iron shoes, and evil witches being thrown into ovens. A most recent young adult bestseller The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, has children as young as 12 fighting to their deaths in a televised contest.

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If you didn’t cry during this scene you’re a monster.

The hypocrisy that arises to me, however, is how other adult themes are extremely off limits to children. In class, we discussed how sexually advanced storylines like incest are banned because they can get too real. Isn’t the prospect of a serial killer rounding up bodies in his house a little too real? It is intriguing to think of the lengths parents go to suppress sexuality and other adult themes but are open to exposing children to violence based solely on the hierarchy of what society deems important.

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Introduction – Victoria Garcia

Hiya! My name is Victoria Garcia and this is my last semester at the University of Florida. I’m an English and Political Science double major with a minor in French. I went to school in Miami, Fl but moved around a lot when I was younger. I was born in Montevideo, Uruguay and then moved to Nassau, Bahamas, then moved to Glen Rock, New Jersey and then finally ended up in Miami. My parents moved back to Uruguay, so I split a lot of my time between here and there. Coming back from break, I was detained at customs because I think they thought I was either a prostitute or a drug mule. (I am neither!)

I decided to take this class because my cousin took it last semester and she legitimately raved about it all the time. She did that thing that some people do with the “sign” on your 21st birthday and her “sign” had a children’s literature theme with every task having to do with a children’s book. (i.e. Find your Christopher Robin and get him to buy you a Whiskey the Pooh). It was cute, if you’re into that stuff.

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That’s the sign. Cute, right? (I’m the one on the right).

I’m looking forward to reading most of these books which I’ve read before but learning the social and historical context behind their writing and publishing and how these constructions trickle down even to affect children. I’m worried about going back to reading really flowery language and pages and pages describing landscape. Maybe that’s not really English major-y of me, but I hate that. I’ve gotten into the habit of only reading and taking more modern English classes and am dreading the Romantic influence.

 

 My idea of children’s literature is any text that is targeted toward children or is eventually enjoyed by children. This is my first children’s literature course but I read like it was my job when I was a kid. One time I spent $40 at the book fair at my school and this girl gave me shade for it.

I think the term “Golden Age” connotes a time when children’s literature began to change. Like we discussed in class, childhood became more valued and writers began narrating their works differently. I also think of it as a retrospective term in the sense that we can look back at that time now knowing its influence so we name it as such.

Also, right before this class I take a Queer Theory class where we talk about the historical implications of penetration and things of that nature so I really appreciate the juxtaposition of the two courses. Thanks ISIS!

 

 

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