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Constructing Childhood: A Brief History of Children’s Literature English 305 Dr. Roggenkamp.

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Presentation on theme: "Constructing Childhood: A Brief History of Children’s Literature English 305 Dr. Roggenkamp."— Presentation transcript:

1 Constructing Childhood: A Brief History of Children’s Literature English 305 Dr. Roggenkamp

2 What is “children’s literature?” What is “childhood?” Meaning of “childhood” is socially constructed, constantly evolving Books “for children” reflect dominant cultural ideals Reinforce ideas about behavior, morality, gender roles, class structure, etc.—shape reader Reflect ideological lens of writer, culture—not created in vacuum Image: Rosemary Adcock, “Orphan Series”

3 Analyze children’s literature in order to... Uncover culture’s views of “childhood”—or ideal view Examine society’s concept of self Interrogate individual author’s relationship to broader cultural context Viewed across time, provides insight into our own concepts of childhood and “normalcy” Image: Arthur B. Houghton, Mother and Children Reading, 1860

4 What did “childhood” mean: Historical Highlights of Western Civilizations 400 years ago: children born in state of sin; childhood reading about religious guidance, indoctrination years ago: “invention of childhood” as modern concept; children’s minds “a blank slate”— fill with proper information 200 years ago: children naturally innocent; moral compass to society 40 years ago: children need to read about harsh realities of life

5 Middle Ages / Medieval Era (500 – 1500) Low literacy—class-based Childhood generally ignored—short and not so sweet Medieval epics, romances, histories for adults also held children’s interest (e.g. Beowulf, King Arthur, Robin Hood, lives of saints, historical legends, etc.) Mingle “reality” with magic, fantasy, enchantment; animal characters

6 European Renaissance, Religious Reformation (1500 – 1650) Printing Press (mid 15th century): Most important technical innovation since wheel Print books in quantity—reduce time, labor, cost Increased literacy, promoted education, disseminated knowledge and practice of reading New merchant middle class—value education, literacy Protestantism Image: Replica of early Gutenberg press

7 Protestantism & Roots of “Modern Childhood” (English & American colonial Puritans; 17 th & early 18 th centuries) Ideal of universal literacy Children products of original sin; a time to prepare for adult religious experience Instructional books, conduct books Primers: teach reading, but also turn innately sinful children into spiritual beings Themes of death, damnation, conversion Image: From New England Primer, circa 1690

8 A little light bedtime reading... Popular reading for Protestant children: Book of Martyrs (1563); The Day of Doom (1662) Anti-Catholic account of “Bloody Mary” reign Poem of damnation of world Horrific scenes of violence, mutilation, murder Images: Thomas Foxe, Book of Martyrs, 1563; Michael WIgglesworth, The Day of Doom, 1662

9 Enter “Modern Childhood”: The Enlightenment (17 th & 18 th centuries) John Locke ( ), Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693) Young mind as tabula rasa (blank slate) Children not burdened by original sin Logical beings awaiting proper education Whole new construction of childhood— distinct and special phase of life Image: John Locke

10 Enter “Modern Childhood”: Romanticism (late 18 th /early 19 th centuries) Children naturally innocent, moral – “The child is the father of the man” (William Wordsworth) Books should free children’s imaginations—not be based in idea of natural sinfulness NOR based in logic Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile (1755)—Children should be raised in natural settings, free to imagine Image: Jean-Jacques Rousseau

11 Late 18 th /Early 19th Centuries: Folktales, Fairy Tales, and the New Child Complicated role of “fairy tales” Enlightenment culture disapproves of folktales for children—too “childlike,” not LOGICAL But Romantic poets/philosophers (Wordsworth, Coleridge, et al.) argue we can learn from children’s imaginations and from “primitive” stories “Fairy tales” deemed appropriate only for children Image: Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Child With an Apple, late 18 th century

12 Late 18 th /Early 19th Centuries: Folktales, Fairy Tales, and the New Child Charles Perrault ( ) Tales from Times Past; or, Tales of Mother Goose (1697) Retellings & “literary” renderings of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, etc. Some explicitly directed toward children Image: Histoires ou Contes du temps passé avec des moralitez, 1697

13 Late 18 th /Early 19th Centuries: Folktales, Fairy Tales, and the New Child Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm Nursery and Household Tales ( ) directed explicitly toward children “Clean up” folktales; develop Perrault’s “literary” fairy tales Rewrite to fit Victorian sensibilities, 19 th century ideas about morality, politics, social class, etc. Image: Little Brother & Little Sister and Other Tales by the Brothers Grimm, illus. Arthur Rackham, 1917


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