- Constructing the Canon of Children’s Literature: Beyond Library Walls and Ivory Towers
Charge any group of children's librarians or children's literature scholars with creating a definitive canon of children's literature, and before a single text makes the cut both groups will be discussing passionately (rather, arguing vehemently) over the canon's principles and parameters, even whether a canon should be formed at all. Anne Lundin demonstrates in her history Constructing the Canon of Children's Literature: Beyond Library Walls and Ivory Towers that such discussion is not new to either field but is core to each discipline's formation as a profession. Lundin achieves this through unearthing the early histories of both children's librarianship and children's literature studies, revealing that each profession similarly strove for validation by means of a thoughtfully constructed canon. The result is a text which affirms the two disciplines while offering in a single volume a valuable overview of their beginnings and the origins of their respective canons of children's literature.
Lundin, both scholar and librarian, is uniquely positioned to bridge these two fields and serve as interpreter of their parallel histories. With enthusiasm and admiration for the pioneers in children's librarianship and children's literature studies, Lundin traces their efforts to establish lists of "Best Books" and describes the debt each field owes the other, albeit most unknowingly. She concludes her slim history with an exploration [End Page 147] of the role readers play in creating official canons as well as their own personal paracanons.
As Romanticism bloomed in late nineteenth-century America, children's librarians established tentative roots in the newly created field of professional librarianship. With a number of powerfully motivated women brimming with near missionary zeal for bringing the right book to the right child at the right time, children's librarians were unique among their colleagues: they were more than simple caretakers, collecting materials for their users; they assumed the role of "a self-determined cultural authority within the garden walls of children's literature" (2). Matriarchs such as Caroline Hewins and Anne Carroll Moore worked with editors, authors, and publishers such as Horace Scudder, Mary Mapes Dodge, Bertha Mahony Miller, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, Walter de la Mare, Paul Hazard, and others as advocates for children's literature at all its stages, from writing to editing to publishing to ultimately placing it in the hands of readers. From the beginning, selection guides, suggested gift book lists, and reviews formed the fruit of early librarians' efforts, delineating the literature's initial canon.
Through her chapter "Best Books: The Librarian," Lundin introduces her scholarly colleagues to the formative influences in this golden age of children's literature. Extensively researched, this section offers an accessible history for non-librarians while providing those in the field with a comprehensive overview of the crucial role their predecessors played in establishing both the profession and the literature they cultivated. In particular, the passages on Anne Carroll Moore and her efforts in conjunction with other advocates present a concise yet clear picture of this legendary figure, valuable to students and scholars of both children's librarianship and children's literature studies.
Given this strong beginning as founders and critics of children's literature, how is it that children's librarians ceded the field to scholars? Lundin outlines this transfer in "Best Books: The Scholar." Concurring with historian Anne MacLeod, Lundin posits that children's librarians remained in their carefully cultivated, idealized, walled garden of narrowly defined quality literature, unable to assimilate the growing shifts in literature and culture (54–55). As the relevance of their canon lessened in the mid-twentieth century, librarians began to lose authority over its construction, an authority scholars assumed as they made tentative steps toward establishing the study of children's literature as a serious scholarly pursuit.
Much like children's librarians, early children's literature scholars found themselves a poor relation at their profession's banquet. Unaware [End Page 148] of (or perhaps unwilling to acknowledge, Lundin suggests...