LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Winnie the Pooh Character Analysis: Pooh

The cover art of the book

In A.A Milne’s classic Winnie the Pooh, our titular character is a very interesting one to analyze, both  in regard to his role as the “protagonist” of the story and his relationship with Christopher Robin. He seems to be good friends with all of the regularly appearing residents of the Hundred Acre Wood and is very attached to Christopher Robin. 

Pooh definitely loves honey…

Pooh is arguably the most lackadaisical character of the entire novel. Unlike most protagonist of stories, Pooh is not driven by a quest nor fights against an antagonist. Instead, Pooh simply interacts with his fellow wood residents and gets into mischievous situations. Pooh’s one notable trait that compels him to complete tasks is his constant quest for honey, which he seems to adore almost as much as Christopher Robin (if not more so). This gluttonous quest for honey often causes the conflict in the stories centered on Pooh, notably including a chapter where he gets stuck in a hole leading to Robin’s underground home. This need for honey also can indirectly affect other characters, which is best seen when Pooh wishes to give Eeyore honey for his birthday but eats it all after becoming hungry. Although Pooh often complicates matters due to his seemingly unquenchable hunger for honey, he never purposely wishes to hurt his friends and even concocts solutions to fix his problems. Pooh at his core seems to be a very pure character with good intentions which can sometimes be affected by his character flaw.

A beautiful friendship

Another interesting dynamic concerning Pooh’s character is his attachment to Christopher Robin. Pooh seems to be the character that loves Christopher the most, which is paralleled by his “real-life” role as his teddy bear. In the novel, Christopher Robin is usually the one who comes to Pooh’s rescue when he gets in trouble. A very important detail to highlight is the boy’s patience with Pooh, something that never seems to be compromised. Other characters are usually quick to criticize and quip at Pooh due to his character flaws; in stark contrast, Christopher never becomes upset with Pooh and usually just refers to him lovingly as a “silly old bear.” Pooh’s love for him seems to definitely owe itself to this fact and can be paired with how Pooh looks up to Robin as both a guardian and a friend. This dynamic definitely gives Pooh a compelling characterization and enhances the arc he shares with Christopher, which comes to a bittersweet close when the boy leaves for school. Pooh states “if there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever”, which I think best captures their relationship. 

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Children’s Literature Bibliography

Children’s Literature Bibliography

Having trouble finding sources?  Have you looked here? (linked in the blogroll on the right hand column too!)

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25 Books Ever Kid Should Have on Their Bookshelf

Any of these titles look familiar? What do you think of the list?

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The Relationship Between Location and Well-Being

At the beginning of the novel, one notices that there is a opposition between India and England; and these opposition also have to do with the personality and well-being of Mary. In India Mary is sick all of the time, “her face was yellow because she had been born in India and had always been ill in one way or another.” This shows how India is not the place that a English child should be raised in, throughout the novel India is represented as a place where you will find illness and ugliness. But when she moves to England she changes, health improves and she starts to even be beauty. The secret garden seems to help cure Mary of the illness that she had and it does the same for Colin also. The novel represents the ways in which your location could be the reasons in which your health is failing.

 

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Socialist Themes in Five Children and It

As we discussed in class on Tuesday, Edith Nesbit (as well as her husband) was an active proponent of socialism. Well-known in political circles, Nesbit was never secretive as to her political alignment. It is somewhat unsurprising, then, that her most well known novel, Five Children and It, contains many themes of and allusions to socialism and the “socialist agenda”.

FiveChildren

Some of these moments are concrete and explicit, however subtle; as we mentioned in class, the litany of “grown up” wishes is clearly one that favors at least some degree of socialism or a welfare state. While this likely went over the heads of young readers, it is often those messages that resound most lastingly; because we cannot remember them to consider them, they go unchallenged in our lexicons.

An interesting example of a “socialist” wish that went awry is the children’s wish for their mother to receive all of the jewelry of another wealthy lady – clearly, this reallocation of wealth is one of the fundamental tenets of socialism. However, this wish ends in drama for the children and the adults that they depend on; this negative outcome is not one that one would believe a socialistically inclined author to orchestrate.

However, even more than these moments I believe that the entire message and idea of the book is based around socialist ideals and practice. The children are often seen to be making wishes for others than themselves, and ultimately, their final wish is one for the Psammead himself. This idea – of using one’s fortune to help those who have no fortune – is a part of a fundamental socialist ideology. While it is not one of the concrete ideals that she mentions (mandatory second education, for example), it goes beyond the mundane and captures the essence of what socialism is designed to be.

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Origin Mythology in Children’s Stories

     I have always thought it was really interesting to read about the origin of the world or explanations of phenomena that does not match today’s scientific facts and theories.  In the Water-Babies, the reader was exposed to an alternate state of life and what life was like “under the sea.”  In Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens the explanation for where babies come is that they are born first as birds on an island of birds and then fly to their future homes to become babies.  This explanation is just as valid as the stork baby story when adults make up untrue explanations for children.  I’m not sure why adults seem keen on telling children more fantastical and unreal versions of the truth, as we have learned in class through reading Golden Age literature and specific cases like Lewis Carroll entertaining children with enchanting lies, but they do.  These lies become stories, and these stories go on to be published works.

An example of one of these quite interesting stories is the explanation for fossils in Five Children and It.  The Psammead, the wish-granting sand fairy, imparts a lot of “historical” knowledge to the children who find him.  The Psammead is several thousand years old and supposedly from the time of Pterodactyls and Megatheriums, the time of dinosaurs.  Apparently he used to grant wishes for Megatheriums to be eaten, but whatever of them was not eaten by sunset would turn to stone.  This applies for any wish that produces an object.  As soon as the sun sets, it turns to stone.  Thus, this story implies that the dinosaur remains, fossils, we find today are the results of, for lack of a better term, wish leftovers.

Megatherium

I delight in this kind of pseudo-mythology in literature, and I wonder why this form of fiction is popular and frequently embedded in novels and stories.  I mentioned before that I am not sure why adults enjoy these kinds of “re-tellings,” but they do provide a source of entertainment.  Adults constantly lie to children about life—babies coming from storks, fairies, the Boogie man, and most notorious, Santa Claus.  If we think back, a lot of these fantasy elements have been used over time to protect children and direct their behavior, such as Santa Claus watching over all children in order to reward the good ones with presents on Christmas, and this helps to make children behave properly more often.  However, what benefit or advantage does this fake history of fossils told by the Psammead have?

I believe that these fake histories provide background for the story.  If the Psammead had no “concrete” history and was just a mysterious being, it lops him into a group of flat characters.  Histories, even fake ones, flesh out characters and even if the genre is fiction, make the characters seem more genuine and real, with real not necessarily meaning as from our reality.

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Extra Credit: Bat… Woman?!

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I attended the “Marginalized Women: Out  of the Margins and Onto the Page” panel for the Graduate Comics Organization on Sunday, March 17th and I learned quite a lot about the history of a super heroine known as Batwoman as well as queer theory in comics. The first speaker, Dianna Baldwin, had a very intriguing argument about the portrayal of the Batwoman character in the DC Comics universe and expanded on her development as well as her back story. Her initial argument of Batwoman’s creation is that she was used to quell rumors that the two renowned heroes of DC Comics, Batman and Robin, were in a homosexual relationship. In fact, Batwoman was used as a potential love interest to Batman  and throughout her very few appearances in the late 1950s she was often the one appearing in the nick of time to rescue the caped crusader.

Moreover, Baldwin’s first part of her presentation focused on emphasizing and pointing out the many feminine aspects of the character of Batwoman including her very bright and womanly attire with her long hair flowing in the back, her make-up inspired gadgets, and even some girly phrases that further accentuated the female stereotype she portrayed. In addition, Batwoman’s weapons consist of feminine products such as cosmetic compacts, bracelets, hairnets, and even lipstick that are literally used to attack her opponents. It is also interesting to note that Batwoman always seems to fight against male villains and, in some cases, rescued Batman and Robin from a pickle, most likely displaying a bit of female superiority and equality with a strong superhero like Batman.

Furthermore, Baldwin also included the deterioration of the Batwoman role which included the character giving up her life as a vigilante because a man advised her to stop. In addition, she spoke about how the term “Women in Refrigerator Syndrome” fit so well to Batwoman as she is “depowered” by the masculine figure, Batman in this case, that discovers her secret identity. Batman warns her that she may be in danger considering any villain may discover her identity if he was easily able to uncover it. Baldwin also talks about the “Bechdel Test” used to identify the gender bias in the Batwoman comics. The test usually consists of following rules: the comic should have two or more women, the woman must converse with one another, and they are to talk about something other than men.

The second half of Baldwin’s presentation expands on the Batwoman character over the years as she began appearing less until she completely disappeared from the DC Comics issues. Baldwin asserts that there was really no use for her character and found it difficult to use her. However, in 2006, the Batwoman character returned and had apparently become a lesbian super heroine. In this iteration, she is more independent and strong willed. She no longer fits in with the typical female stereotype and has become a more masculine character that fights crime without the presence of Batman. She has a romantic relationship with another female and her character seems to be completely rewritten to appease a broader audience.

Overall, Baldwin organized her presentation really well and a lot of people were very attentive to her analysis of Batwoman. It was interesting to see the transition from a character that was practically the epitome of the stereotypical female of the Golden Age comics to a tough, independent, and well-rounded super heroine in the 2000s. Her presentation was perfect, in my opinion, and elaborated a lot on a character with a very limited background. Not only did she include the developmental history of Batwoman, but her argument was consistent with the facts she included on her presentation. All in all, this was a very interesting experience and would love to attend another panel like this in the future.

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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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Racial Tensions in Peter Pan Adaptations: Then and Now

J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan has endured in the hearts of both children and adults since he first appeared in Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Though this character has served as a classic symbol for childhood and children’s literature, he also indicates a much more racist period in culture and history.

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“The Great White Father” was the working title of the original play by J.M. Barrie. This references racist elements of the story Peter Pan and Wendy and of Peter’s character. Though the play’s producer ultimately rejected this title, the term “redskin,” borrowed from United States racial jargon, was still used in the play to specify indigenous populations. The way that Barrie depicts the indigenous characters, too, denotes stereotypically savage behavior of an aggressive tribe out to wreak havoc on the Lost Boys, a group of young white children, when they think the Boys snatched the chief’s daughter.

Interestingly enough, it seems that more recent adaptations have sought to address and correct such blatantly racist implications. The 2003 film adaptation Peter Pan provides one example of this. In the original book and play (and most adaptations) the characters Wendy and Tiger Lily often stand in direct contrast. Even though they are both women, and depicted as weaker than Peter, Wendy is presented as stronger and more intelligent than Tiger Lily, her indigenous counterpart. Tiger Lily, on the other hand, is very helpless and has hardly anything (intelligent or otherwise) to say. In Peter Pan (2003), however, Tiger Lily, played by an Iroquois actress, does not play into this earlier established stereotype. Instead, she is depicted as a fiery, defiant young lady, who stands her ground against Captain Hook. She even contrasts her original damsel-in-distress depiction and actively saves John Darling from a band of pirates.

While there are racial tensions that will never be able to be completely taken out of Peter Pan adaptations without changing the story, recent adaptations, such as 2003’s Peter Pan successfully combats some of the racial prejudices illustrates in Barrie’s original book and play.

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Extra Credit: Hush

I attended the Graduate Comics Organization on March 15th, and listened to three different speakers, two females, and a male. I did not enjoy the presentation style of the two females because it felt forced, and sans passion for their research. That being said, when Matthew Ziegler, a presenter from Truman State University, spoke, I was very impressed. He delivered his presentation with casual elegance and subtle poise. It was clear that this presentation meant a great deal to him and he used this opportunity to demonstrate that. He gave a very impacting speech about a comic called Hush. This is a comic that originated in India and really intrigued Matthew to learn more. It is a comic that has no words or text, but only images. This way, the story is completely open to subjective interpretation. While this is true, the fact that the main character of the story was raped by her father is very well supported. The images just reveal too much pain to deny that.

The characters of the comic have no names, perhaps as a means to relate to more exterior individuals rather than just the characters in the story. The images that I perfectly remember are images that show pain and sorrow. Images of the main character with a smoking gun in a classroom, which symbolizes the murder she committed as an act of vengeance to salvage some sense of strength. She shot a teacher, who happened to be her father, because he repeatedly raped her throughout the course of her life. She uses the same handgun to kill herself because she kept seeing his image. While this is the basic plot of the story, Matthew was more interested in the way the images were portrayed as means of “speaking” to the audience, because of the lack of any text. The use of emotions, shadows, and gloomy imagery spoke more to me than did the mere appearance of an image as a whole. Matthew mentioned that this story applied to conflicts that are ongoing in India, in which women are the oppressed gender and males have a sense of supremacy. The interpretation that the main character was raped can be used to signify the “rape” of women in a society that is fit for the male gender.

I agree with the speaker, especially because of the manner in which he developed his approach. He stated what he felt about the images as parts and as a whole to envelop the entire text. After he laid out his argument, he went into why he believed it. He was able to support every point he made with the use of the images provided in the comic as sites of evidence. He was asked three questions from the audience and he was able to answer them all with ready success and no hesitation.

I learned just how powerful a small, wordless comic really can be. It told a story simply through the use of images, but it told a much larger story about the strife in India. It made me aware of current events that I was not aware of, and made me feel proud to know that this is another means of getting the knowledge out there.

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