- New to Children's Literature?
Are you interested in graduate programs in children's literature? Teaching a course in children's literature for the first time? Or thinking about doing some research in the field? If so, Glenn Sadler's new book, another in MLA's Options for Teaching series, will provide assistance. Even veteran teachers of children's literature will find this little book useful and stimulating.
Organizing his material into five parts—"Critical Issues and Approaches," "Course Descriptions," "Selected Advanced Programs," "Two Children's Literature Collections," and "Readings and Resources"—Sadler attempts "to present a comprehensive report on the present state of teaching children's literature in undergraduate and graduate institutions" (ix). The book is not comprehensive, but selective. The most obvious absences occur in the first part. Where are those critics interested in structuralism and deconstruction? Why are there so few feminist pieces and so few exploring reader response? Why is there so little about multiculturalism? Why is there such a heavy emphasis on fairy tales, fantasy, and romanticism and so little about realism? There is nothing about nonfiction and little about poetry and little about picture books. Turning to the course descriptions, I was intrigued, but again curious, about what is missing. Were I to wish to implement any of these course descriptions, I would first contact the author for additional details. Similarly, only four of the advanced programs in children's literature are described, although a booklet about graduate programs published by the Children's Literature Association includes many more than that. And there are only two of the nearly 50 notable children's literature collections described. The names and addresses of the other collections are provided in the last part of the book as are an excellent selected bibliography of [End Page 215] references works, textbooks, and criticism and a list of periodicals, annuals, and organizations. Even as I read this part, I missed a few of the books I looked for in the bibliography and noted that the address for the Children's Literature Association is incorrect.
In my mind, these disappointments are not very serious. To begin with, at this point in time, I would not expect one little book to be comprehensive. The last 20-some years have been too rich and varied in their development for that to be possible. Only the claim, therefore, is disturbing. Similarly, given the need to be selective, I am not very surprised by what was included and excluded.
Focusing on the relationship between adult literature and children's literature, U. C. Knoepflmacher's introduction is especially fine. In my mind, the best criticism never forgets this relationship and its rich implications for defining children's literature and its audiences. Knoepflmacher points out that these implications work both ways and also define adult literature and its audience. Even more importantly, he explores the political implications of our traditionally having valued adult literature over children's literature.
The first section of part one surprises me. Issues of canon and canon formation seem to be old hat for those of us long in the field, yet this is the largest group of articles. To be sure, those new to the field may require this background. Then, too, these are interesting pieces that do not fall back simply on the assertion that aesthetic value defines a canonical work. History, culture, psychology, and political power are explored as sources of canonization. J. D. Stahl, in "Canon Formation: A Historical and Psychological Perspective," traces the concept of the child as it was created and evolved as fundamental to the creation of those children's books valued in any one period of history. In "On Teaching the Canon of Children's Literature," John Griffith and Charles Frey affirm the necessity of exposing the values of children's books as usually those of "well-to-do, well-educated whites, males, Christians, northern Europeans" (23). Bruce Ronda's "An American Canon of Children's Literature" emphasizes what he sees as the three central "cultural conversations carried on in the United States and evident in...