LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Final Paper: Children’s Books for Adults?

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.


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.  


Lamb as a Teaching Tool

In Five Children and It by E. Nesbit the character that most interested me was the Lamb and his use as a character to teach morals to the other children. Lamb was the victim of a few of the children’s wishes but was also used to transform the other four siblings internally by the end of the tale.


Lamb was the subject of a wish gone wrong when the children wished someone else wanted the child. That wish turned into everyone wanting the child and the children had to fight off kidnappers to protect their younger brother. I believe this was the first lesson used to teach the children the importance of family, and the need to protect family no matter what.

Lamb and his rapid transformation into adulthood was the second wish made that could have potentially hurt Lamb. What was puzzling to me about his transformation was his rude character and demeanor. His adult self seemed very contrasted from his siblings. When he first shifted I was under the impression he would simply become the version of himself he was meant to grow into, but judging by those who surrounded him it is my belief that this reflected a Lamb made by magic and not what he could have potentially been.

I think this wish was used to teach the children the dangers of growing up too quickly. The children attempted to take control of their own lives by wishing everything they wanted. Controlling one’s future is an adult responsibility, and I think the negative consequences that came after each wish were meant to teach the children to be patient and not rush out of childhood.

I think Lamb as a character served to teach the four children a lessen more so than just to be one of the children. His infant age from the very beginning makes him unique amongst the five. He has this sense of innocence not only because he is so young but also because he himself is the only one who does not make any wishes. He is affected by the wishes of his siblings and even when he is transformed into an adult he does not ask anything of the Psaammead. One of the reasons his absence of wishing preserves his innocence because he is not the direct cause of any of the negative consequences. He is not responsible for the unfortunate side effects of the wishes. The other siblings were forced to lose a piece of their childhood in order to resolve some of these issues they created by lying or being deceitful. This creates a greater divide between the innocence of Lamb and the others.

ImageThe only slight loss of innocence experienced by Lamb is when he transforms into an adult, Hilary or St Maur, for a day. During this time, Land is rude and even attempts to go off with a woman. However, even in this situation Lamb was not responsible for his own mistakes. In my opinion, the adult he turned into is not reflective of the adult he would have grown up to be. I believe this is so because of my earlier distinction of how different his character was from the other children. It is likely that he would have grown up similar to the others instead of the character he temporarily portrayed. My belief is that by turning back into a child he will have a second chance to maintain his childhood and grow into a child then adult more similar to the others. In this situation, Lamb will serve as a tool to teach the other children as well as himself.

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Tiger Lily

I recently read a novel by Jodi Lynn Anderson titled Tiger Lily, which as I’m sure you can guess revolves around one of the more understated characters of J.M. Barrie’s novel Peter Pan and Wendy. Much like Barrie’s story, Anderson’s is also narrated, although in this retelling it is not an omniscient unnamed voice but instead Tinker Bell herself. In many ways Tinker Bell is all knowing and removed from the main action of the story. Anderson has made her mute, and for the most part an unrecognized character that follows Peter and Tiger Lily around. In fact, Peter himself never acknowledges her presence, and for much of the time neither does Tiger Lily.


The novel revolves around Tiger Lily, her village, and her relationship with Peter Pan. Barrie’s novel is often critiqued (and likewise so is Disney’s movie) for the two-dimensional portrayal of the Piccaninny tribe. In this way I think Anderson pursued a wonderful opportunity; she chose to follow a path Barrie had not explored and added depth and background to the characters of Neverland.

There is a certain romantic quality of Peter Pan and his inability to remember much from one adventure to the next. His short-term memory fits well with the Darling children’s flight to Neverland and their time there. Nothing existed before their arrival and nothing after. But because Anderson’s novel centers on Tiger Lily, she gets to give us more background and depth to Neverland and its inhabitants. We are given information about Tiger Lily, her family, her customs, and how she meets and falls in love with Peter Pan. Also, this Neverland is connected to the outside world. The pirates who come to Neverland are actual Englishman coming to port on an island. There is a certain loss that takes place as Tiger Lily goes on, and it is the loss of innocence. Outsiders discover Neverland and there is the feeling that Neverland will never really be the same. Soon Neverland will become just another island under a crown, the mermaids will disappear with the rest of the fairies and magic, and the house under the ground will collapse without a sound. This feeling mirrors the loss of innocence and childhood that the Peter Pan stories so clearly represent.

I would absolutely recommend reading this book. Although at times the inevitability of what would be the ending was depressing, Anderson gave a heartbreakingly cruel and compassionate story that spoke to the world and children Barrie created in the original Peter Pan and Wendy. Anderson presented the sad realities of Neverland without the breaks of clever dialogue that Barrie gave his audience. Anderson did not attempt to make any character more likeable; instead she gave them to you as if to say, ‘Here they are, take them or leave them, they aren’t perfect.’ Although her writing style and the tone of narration was much different than Barrie’s, her message and her depictions of the characters were very familiar. However, there is one character that Anderson treats differently. There is a judgment aimed towards Wendy that Anderson does not use against her other characters. I think in many ways Anderson is mirroring many of our own reactions when reading Peter Pan and Wendy (STOP DARNING SOCKS! PICK UP A SWORD OR SOMETHING!). I found this particularly interesting, and very telling of the modern times that Anderson’s story has been written in. The author and her audience applaud Tiger Lily’s refusal to bend her will to societal restrictions and expectations and we turn up our noses at Wendy’s refusal to want anything more.

Overall, Tiger Lily did a wonderful job at adding to a story we already love without tarnishing it. The novel is geared toward young adults, but it does not by any means get caught up in romantic or love-triangle pit falls or traps. The writing is superb and it really makes you think about childhood, moving on, and growing up.

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Paper Thoughts: Arthur Rackham and Children’s Book Illustration

rackham1For my final paper I am focusing, unsurprisingly, on children’s book illustration. More specifically, I am planning to write about Arthur Rackham (1867-1939), a prolific early-twentieth century British illustrator. While Rackham illustrated a vast number of books, I intend to focus on his illustrations for Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and examine how these illustrations are representative of major themes in children’s book illustration during the Golden Age. (I realize that this is still somewhat vague, most of my research so far has been limited to biographical information while I wait for a couple of books on the history of children’s book illustration to arrive.)

Rackham was commissioned to illustrate Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens in 1905, completing fifty full-page color illustrations for the text. His illustrations were praised by both Barrie and critics, and the book was the most popular gift-book for Christmas in 1906. Rackham’s Alice in Wonderland, published in time for Christmas in 1907 after the book’s original copyright expired, was one of the first re-illustrated versions to be released since the publication of the original with John Tenniel’s iconic illustrations. Interestingly, several other re-illustrated versions were released at the same time, but Rackham’s was the only to endure.

rackham5One specific area that interests me is the production and reception of deluxe limited editions of illustrated books during this period. Many of Rackham’s books were published in these sorts of editions and were extremely popular as Christmas gifts, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph. However, I am finding in my research that such lavish editions, while popular, also attracted criticism when it came to children’s books. For example, the illustrations for Peter Pan were printed, as was customary, on thick paper and protected by tissue fly-leaves (some of the books that we looked at on our visit to the Baldwin were printed in this manner). Critics attacked this practice, however, claiming that such fine books were more suited for “the drawing-room rather than the nursery” (Hudson 66). They argue that in creating such luxurious editions, the books were turned into art objects more easily admired by adults than enjoyed and used by children. I plan to try and locate the full original responses by critics that are cited in the books I have read, and I hope to further explore this debate and its implications for Rackham’s work and Golden Age children’s illustration.

A gallery of Rackham’s Peter Pan illustrations can be found here.
A Rackham edition of Alice in Wonderland can be viewed here.

Hamilton, James. Arthur Rackham: A Life with Illustration. London: Pavilion, 1990.
Hudson, Derek. Arthur Rackham: His Life and Work. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1960.

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