LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Winnie the Pooh, a Classic

Is Winnie the Pooh a classic?

Yes, of course. It has had a presreadingence in each of our lives. The majority of people in the U.S. know about Winnie the Pooh or have heard of it. Particularly, it has been successful in capturing the interest of young children; though, Milne wrote the Pooh stories for both children and the child within adults. To this day, Winnie the Pooh remains a multibillion merchandising empire whose trademarks are owned by Disney. Disney has created numerous adaptations based off of Milne’s original stories, and is continuously releasing new Pooh movies, Pooh video games, Pooh TV series/specials, and a great variety of Pooh merchandise.

Now, what is a classic? What makes a story a classic? Well, a classic in the literary context is a story that transcends time and maintains itself as a source of value, relatability, and/or pleasure for the recurring generations. Although each classic is distinctively different from another in its unique form, style, presentation, and/or plot points and storyline, all classics share certain characteristics that nurture their success.

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Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh and The House At Pooh Corner have a distinctive writing style that distinguishes them from other texts. Milne adds humor at the expense of the characters who may have no idea what is going on, but we know all too well. We see such occurrences in chapter three, “Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle.” Here, Piglet and Pooh are following animal tracks that they hypothesize to be Woozles. The reader is told that Pooh has been “walking round and round in a circle, thinking of something…” (A. A. Milne). Then Pooh and Piglet commence their tracking of some mysterious prints in the snow, which the reader knows them to be Pooh’s own footprints. More evidence of these being Pooh’s (and Piglet’s) own footprints presents itself as Piglet and Pooh come across more pairs of footprints along the same track. It is amusing to the reader to watch two completely oblivious characters waste their time in tracking nothing but their very selves, and then seeing Piglet in fear over what the creatures could be (and how many as well).

Milne uses characters who dominantly express one single trait: Pooh and his constant hunger; Piglet and his anxiety; Eeyore and his depression; Etc. Milne’s intention in doing so is to create a more enjoyable piece; to use exaggerations that are both humorous and enjoyable to the reader. Furthermore, as we discussed in class, because the characters never change and always result back to their original selves by the beginning of the next day (the next story), we have here everlasting characters who will always be in a single state of mind, and whom popular culture can make into infinite adaptations featuring new adventures and experiences, thus keeping Winnie the Pooh classic, interesting, and profitable.

Pooh stuff         A good sign of the timelessness of Winnie the Pooh is its popularity in terms of merchandise and profitability. In fact, Winnie the Pooh is Disney’s most profitable franchise, and brings in over a billion dollars in revenues each year. Just surfing through the Disney online store, there are Winnie the Pooh plush toys, figurine playsets, crib bedding sets, mugs, quilts, tees, beanie bags, pillows, slippers, cups, pajamas, and even a limited edition signed artwork for approximately $800.00. It goes to show that children and adults alike enjoy Pooh and may develop nostalgia — or “expensive” nostalgia — for the lovable bear and his companions. There is no doubt that Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh and The House At Pooh Corner will continue to be classics for years to come as they inspire new adaptations and new adventures that offer joy and value to the young and old alike, as well as for many future generations to come.

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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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What is a Classic?

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An individual may ask what characteristics make up a “classic” when it comes to literature and the usual response would be the age of the book. A classic can be a novel that has been around for several decades and is still being read by both children and adults today. In fact, a classic tale can become immortalized as it is passed down through generations of readers as long as people are willing to keep the books alive when reading them to their children. Considering classic literature is very outdated, there are several occasions when the values in the stories are quite different from contemporary ones. Moreover, the language and writing style become a lot more difficult to comprehend over time, but fortunately some classics have been recreated in modern English, so that readers can understand according to how they speak today. There are also different ways the characters behave and talk in society. In other words, a classic can serve as representation of the time period it was written. However, despite the many changes throughout time, a classic always maintains consistent morals and a unique story for readers of any age and time period to enjoy for an eternity.

A book can be deemed a “classic” merely by how memorable it is to society. Time does not necessarily limit the “classic” label, but it does strengthen the credibility when someone picks up a book that is several years old. One could probably argue that it is the book’s popularity and the large sum of people who know of its existence and contents in the story that immediately makes the book a classic. Perhaps it is a little pretentious to consider a book a classic after being out for not even a decade, but it is really up to time to decide if a book should be considered a classic. If future generations are able to remember books of today then these contemporary books should indeed be considered classics, but we have to let time decide the future label of a book. Both adult and children’s books can both be evaluated equally in terms of being classified as classics; both adult and children’s literature have their fair share of renowned stories and, in most cases, are books that are kept alive by the educational system which requires these classics to be read.

Now how exactly would Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel, The Secret Garden, be considered a classic to contemporary readers? The first and most important thing in a classic novel is the universal appeal. Burnett uses the garden motif as an expression of life and its beauty. Moreover, the garden is a place where healing and magic occurs, a location where things are able to be at peace and grow. As readers, we can often relate to flawed characters like Mary Lennox and Collin who eventually overcome their problems and develop into strong and memorable characters. The lesson in this novel seems to lean to being positive and looking on the bright side which is often accentuated by the beauty in the garden. Mary begins as a spoiled and immature character, but by meeting Collin she becomes aware of her own flaws which are practically mirrored through her cousin. Mary learns to take responsibility and Collin, who was initially wheelchair bound, is soon able to walk. The characters play an important role in making the story survive for multiple generations, the morals and lessons taught through these characters can be relatable to many readers no matter what time period they live in.

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Five Children and It: An Overlooked Classic

The term classic evokes a certain feeling; it carries with it an air of prestige, as well as a sense of nostalgia. In order to be a classic, a book must be able to stand the test of time. Often, this requires a timeless quality. However, a book can be rooted in its own time but still endure as a classic if it possesses that often intangible “it” factor which captures the heart of the reader. Edith Nesbit’s Five Children and It is very distinct, specifically in terms of its setting and time period. The world she creates is incredibly real, with the exception of the mythical Psammead and the wishes it grants. As a result of it’s realistic nature, her world is one that does not transcend borders as well as those explored in other classics. For example, Wonderland and Oz are imaginary places where any child, from anywhere, may imagine themselves exploring. In a world that is entirely imaginary, there are still of course going to be nods to the author’s culture and home, but overall there is a lack of identification with any real place. This makes anything possible; anyone can venture to Wonderland. Not everyone can venture to the sand quarry near their quaint home in the English countryside. The poor, caged-in children of London to whom Nesbit refers in her opening pages are cut off from this specific kind of country living. And while they, of course, can use their imaginations, it can be more difficult to place oneself in a place that is so distinctly real. The reality of it all serves as a barrier, the kind that does not exist in getting to Oz. There are also a number of allusions to the time in which Nesbit was living and writing.  The most common form of transportation was a horse and buggy, people started their mornings using wash basins, and any half decent family had servants to look after their children.  However, its specificity, while perhaps off-putting to some, has not stopped Five Children and It from gaining status as a classic, specifically in England. Yet that popularity did not carry over so much into America.

I had never heard of this book before this class. The only other book on the syllabus which I had never heard of was The Water Babies and, to be honest, I did not find that one to my liking. So I became skeptical of this other unknown “classic.” I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by Five Children and It. Yes, the setting was rather British, and bits of it were a tad dated. I didn’t understand all of the difficulties with the money, knowing nothing about any currency other than that of the good old USA, and I’m sure that there were other bits of the story that went over my head due to differences in cultural capital. But when it comes to the story itself, I was enchanted. The children found a sand fairy, which begrudgingly granted them wishes, and many an adventure ensued. What’s not to like? I feel that the strength of its story and narration eclipse any deficits that may have emerged over the past hundred years.  The fact remains that this book, while a classic in one culture, is very much overlooked in our own. Perhaps its endearing quality didn’t transfer to American audiences, or perhaps the librarians powers of dissuasion really did a number here. But I, for one, really enjoyed this century old book, and would place it on my classics shelf right here in America.

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The Classic Character

never grow up

            While doing research for my group’s presentation on J.M. Barrie and his most well-known character Peter Pan, the question emerged whether or not this was considered a classic. Prior to this class, I was never of aware of the Little White Bird or Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, and my knowledge of the boy who would never grow up was mainly secluded to what Disney mass produced as a part of the “Masterpiece Collection”. While I agree that Peter Pan is a classic, it is not the books, but rather the character that has true lasting power in the cannon of children’s literature. Barrie’s novels have the ability to apply to both the audience of the child and the adult, which is certainly no easy feat, and a result of popularity, this story has been able to grow into a category of its own, which continues to be proliferated today. However, Peter himself is the true star that endures as an archetype of the boy who never turns into a man. While Wendy, Tinker Bell, Captain Hook, and the Lost Boys all serve an important part and are certainly known in their own right, it is the story of Peter that consistently prevails.

Peter Pan, the self-assured and smug boy of Neverland, has helped this story achieve notoriety because of the theme that he represents to many children and adults. In a society where we are forced to grow up and accept the realities of our day-to-day lives, Barrie questions this as he creates a character who not only refuses to grow up, but is also proud to stay a boy forever. As a result of Peter Pan, Barrie was able to capitalize and create multiple story lines as well as create a play that made this character an idol to those who wished they could step away from their own responsibilities and never stop believing in the impossible. While in all reality, Peter Pan is certainly not pure and innocent, his mischievousness goes unnoticed at times because I believe people are more focused on wishing they were more like him, living life free of accountability, and with the belief that they can do anything, including fly.

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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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Peter Pan as a Classic

I have never thought about the meaning of “classic” until this course. As I grew up, I would hear this term as when in the 1990s my mother bought Snow White when it first came out on VHS because it was a classic and when in school my fourth grade teacher, Ms. Kuwabara, recommended Harry Potter to me because she said it would become a classic. I learned to recognize and use this word without really knowing and understanding what it meant. Among friends, a phrase or an activity would be named a “classic” in jest, such as buying Doritos after school—Doritos are a classic snack food!



  Playing tag at recess would become a classic activity even though we only had been playing tag together for a few weeks. Daniel’s fat pet cat stories were classics. J.Lo’s latest song became a classic. These things were sentimental to us, and so they garnered the name “classic.”
The one trait all of these so-called “classics” shared was a sense of captivation. There was an alluring, captivating aspect to all these objects and activities. The act of eating Doritos after school became a nostalgic kind of captivation. Tag was an exhilarating type of captivation, and so on.

When deciding on what to discuss about Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, I decided to write about why it is considered a classic. It actually took a good couple of hours of wondering to try to pinpoint the reason or reasons why. I had always just known things to be classics but not necessarily why. Some books are classics because other people say they are, and some people say books are classics because of the attached sentimental feelings. Both these groups of people found something worthwhile and captivating about whatever they deem a classic, and I now know that’s what makes Peter Pan a classic.

     Peter Pan is a classic because


 of its captivating nature. The story includes magical and impossible things, but they are set in a very concrete and very real environment, which leads the reader to want to believe in the absurd and the magical because it’s more fun—more captivating. How wondrous it must be to play all night in whatever manner you choose, never know fear, and to see fairies dance! Both young and old can relate to some portion of this book. Who wants to grow up and grow old and have responsibilities truly? Peter Pan, the character, embodies the timelessness I feel most people desire, a happiness achievable only by children who do not know pain and fear. Aside from those self-identifications, the story is full of whimsy and the unreal. Fairies and birds-turned-babies, flying, wishes, and all manner of things born of the creative imagination are written down for our entertainment and enjoyment. Peter Pan is a classic because whether it’s understanding what it means to be happy or getting to read about mythical creatures, Peter Pan has something to offer to, something to captivate its readers with.

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: A Classic

Lewis Carroll’s, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is most definitely a classic novel of children’s literature. Some may even argue that it is the epitome of the Golden Age. Not only did it receive huge popularity shortly after its publication over 100 years ago, the book has remained successful and continues to be read by children of today. So the question that arises is – why. Why has Alice experienced so much fame and recognition?

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For one, this novel is so different than the other books that we have read. Carroll’s style of nonsense is very innovative and ingenious. He combines reality, fantasy, and nonsense in a manner that brings the reader into a whole new world. Wonderland, although extremely bizarre and random, somehow makes sense. There are rules and explanations to all the weirdness which readers are amused and entertained by.

Another factor that has made Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland a classic is the fact that it is adored by both children and adults alike. The style and tone of the text is very reminiscent of a child’s imagination. For children, they are mesmerized and enthralled by the mysteries of Wonderland and the magical creatures. As a little girl, I was personally captivated by the Cheshire cat. In fact, I distinctly remember playing Alice with my stuffed animal cat, Fluffy. This personal memory takes me to my next point that adults love the novel, too. For grown-ups, rereading Alice brings back sentimental memories and feeling of nostalgia. They are transported back to their childhoods and to a world full of creativity, dreams, and imagination. As a results of this popularity by both children and adults, Alice has continued to survive through many generations of readers and remain a classic.

Another reason why Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is classified as a classic is the unique manner in which Carroll plays with the text along with the illustrations. Never before, have we seen the actual physical words of a novel intertwine with pictures or incorporate playful pieces. For example, the poem of the mouse’s tail is actually written in a spiral pattern, like that of a tail. I have to admit, I actually had fun turning my book around and around in order to read the poem. There are also multiple pages with lines of asterisks, almost resembling twinkling stars. These examples are fun, playful ways in which Carroll captivates his audience.

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In conclusion, Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland remains a sentimental piece of children’s literature. As a classic, it has remained successful among multiple generations and is adored by both children and adults. Moreover, Carroll introduced readers with a brand new style of writing that had never before existed. He created Wonderland – a land of nonsense, dreams, imagination, and nostalgia.

Just an indication of how popular Alice remains today – here is a blog that is completely devoted to the novel.

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Pinocchio: Characterizations in Book and Disney Film

The original poster to the Disney film.

The original poster to the Disney film.

When the media behemoth known as Disney decides to adapt a story for modern audiences, the staff involved usually edits the material to make it more accessible and child-friendly. In the case of the classic book The Adventures of Pinocchio, Walt Disney and his crew changed the presentations of the characters in a number of ways. Although many people may take these changes at face value, I find it more interesting to analyze the reasons why certain changes in particular characters exist, most notably in our titular protagonist.

Disney: making odd children's books more accessible since the early 1900's!

Disney: making odd children’s books more accessible since the early 1900’s!

Collodi’s and Disney’s characterizations of Pinocchio differ in subtle ways. In the classic novel, Pinocchio can be see as the quintessential  petulant child in that he constantly makes mistakes, diverges from his instructions, and treats his authority figures with indirect contempt. Even though he affirms to himself that he will follow the instructions of his father and the blue fairy, he almost always gives into temptation and disobeys them. This character trait parallels the Disney version of Pinocchio, who succumbs to the same temptations; however, the Disney Pinocchio displays much more innocence than the book version. Disney’s Pinocchio lacks basic knowledge of human nature and is fooled repeatedly by the fox and the cat, which can be attributed to his naivety. Collodi’s Pinocchio, although also lacking knowledge, disobeys his superiors much more often than the Disney Pinocchio and even treats his father badly at time. When Pinocchio first meets his father in the book, he insults him and gives little respect for the fact that he created him. This lack of respect becomes a recurring theme early in the book, especially when Pinocchio sells the ABC book his father gave to him, which he paid for by selling off his only coat. The Disney Pinocchio loves his father tremendously and never purposely insults him nor abuses him, which adds more to Disney’s characterization of an innocent but naive Pinocchio. On a more aesthetic level, the book Pinocchio is often presented in a creepy, realistic fashion in illustrations, while the Disney Pinocchio is much more anthropomorphized and looks almost like a normal little boy.

The illustrations of the book Pinocchio are a tad creepy…

Why does Disney characterize Pinocchio as an innocent, naive boy while the original character displays much more insensitivity? I think the answer lies in a cultural shift. When the book was published, nearly almost all of books for children were created primarily to teach lessons and give children examples of morality. Although Disney’s film still recognizes and demonstrates the same basic lessons, the idea of entertaining the audience is much more prevalent. If Pinocchio had remained as rude as he was in the novel, audiences probably would not have responded well and ignored the film. By giving Pinocchio a more child-like innocence and cuteness, Disney has not only given children a character to relate to but also one that parents can sympathize with and adore. Although Collodi’s message may be subdued, Disney’s adaptation reflects a much better understanding of what appeals to both parents and children.

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Fairy Tales and Disney Tales: the Goblin known as Walt

The Princess and the Goblin is an interesting progression for fairy tales as the idea of a female protagonist is not only represented in this text, but the story also implores the idea that the other main characters who greatly affect this story’s development are also women. In class, we were able to spend an ample amount of time highlighting the qualities of five women who demonstrated their influence on the story. Coincidentally enough, this movie, not created though the somewhat less than imaginative mind of Walt Disney, was not very popular with audiences, such as Beauty and the Beast, which was also produced in the same yearWhat does this say about the power that Disney holds over popular culture regarding how an animated fairy tale should be viewed and critiqued? Walt Disney is anything but the model for feminism and as a result, the criticism regarding his chauvinistic tendencies in practically every one of his movies becomes more of a focus even decades after his death.

While I cannot argue that Mr. Disney did not find merit in the fairy tale of Princess Irene, it can be demonstrated through his inability of focusing on strong female protagonists and his display of women in his films, that he could have possibly been deterred from producing a film that was centered on women. In The Princess and the Goblin, the King is absent for majority of the book, and the only other real strong male character is Curdie, who while helps save the Princess, is only a supporting character to the illustrious Irene.

When the movie of The Princess and the Goblin came out in 1991, it was competing with the Disney classic film, Beauty and the Beastand we all know how that turned out. Princess Irene got lost in the castle along with poor Chip in the cupboard and was hardly a thought in the realm of Belle and the Beast.

The author of The Princess and the Goblin, George MacDonald, was beginning a new focus of fairy tales, which included women in a more commanding role; however, as Jack Zipes wrote in his piece Breaking the Disney Spell, Disney has a way of “chang[ing] [fairy tales] completely to suit his tastes and beliefs” (Zipes, 347). Zipes specifically looks at how Disney portrayed the film version of Snow White, but much of what he says applies to practically every movie that deals with a Disney princess. In the Grimms’ version of Snow White there is “the sentimental death of [Snow White’s] mother”, however this just so happens to be left out of Mr. Disney’s portrayal of the film (Zipes, 347). Instead, his story centered on the romance with the Prince, who of course enters on a white horse as Snow’s very own prince charming. Snow White lies lifeless in the end of the film until this man can come rescue her. As Zipes states concisely, the “film follows the classic ‘sexist’ narrative about the framing of women’s lives through a male discourse” (Zipes, 348). “Despite [the] beauty and charm” of the princesses in Disney’s films, “these figures are pale and pathetic compared to the more active and demonic characters in the film” (Zipes 349).

Princess Irene does not fill this archetype of the domestic woman, whose motive is purely as an accessory to a man. She is strong-willed, independent, and uses her title as princess to implore power, rather than subservience. Why then was the film of her journey unfavorable? The answer to this question is certainly perplexing, and unfortunately, I am not sure I will find the answer any time soon. But I feel I am more hopeful than most in thinking that as a society we will all be able to fight back against the patriarchal goblin that Disney has created in order to demonstrate a more balanced approach to the contributions of both women and men in fairy-tales.

 

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