In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Good Books in Search of Good Readers
  • Lynne Vallone (bio)
Suzanne Rahn. Rediscoveries in Children’s Literature. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1995.

Suzanne Rahn’s Rediscoveries in Children’s Literature is a useful and engaging introduction to a sample of unjustly neglected children’s books. In part, Rahn’s study functions as an argument against canon formation within the field of children’s literature, arguing that children’s literature scholarship suffers if we restrict ourselves to writing about “classics,” favored contemporary authors, and formula fiction. Rahn believes that an unfortunate “narrowing in scope” has been the result of the development of children’s literature into an academic field of study, and she calls for attention to be paid not only to the select few authors highlighted in her book, but also to the many other “good books” in need of rediscovery. According to Rahn, the lack of readership of these underread and underappreciated texts is not indicative of their value. Her book is leveraged on the belief that personal history and nostalgia can be legitimate and powerful motivators to rediscovery, as the opening anecdote describing her childhood Saturday mornings in the public library demonstrates. This belief in the “sanctity” of one’s reading autobiography as a path to recovery of forgotten authors may be the most thought-provoking element of the book: is an audience of one or just a handful “significant” enough to constitute the “rediscovery” of any particular text? Suzanne Rahn argues yes: “if the criticism of children’s literature is ever to come of age, it must acknowledge the ultimate authority of the individual reader. If the Morte Darthur [sic] and the poems of Catullus can be considered first-rate literature on the strength of the small audience that continues to read and appreciate them, then the absolute number of children who still read Frank Stockton or Selma Lagerlöf should not matter either. It is the quality of their experience that counts” (xviii). Yet [End Page 446] within the context of the academic study of children’s literature that Rahn invokes, what is rediscovery for if not to encourage group activity—scholars to write, teachers to assign, parents and children to read? I’m not sure that it is fair to the academic community of children’s literature scholars to hold them responsible for widening the scope of their scholarship (thereby giving “credibility” to more books), while at the same time arguing that it is the individual’s response (“quality of their experience”) to any given book that finally determines its “value.” The sticky issues of “value” and “worth” of children’s books is not developed here, so that Rahn’s argument—as teacher/scholars we must resist the “great books” urges we sometimes feel as we defend the status of children’s literature, and as parents or readers we should appreciate the unique qualities of neglected works and revisit our childhood selves or, even better, share the books with others—strikes me as paradoxical.

My hesitation to embrace the “ultimate authority of the individual reader” in an academic context, however, in no way diminished my enjoyment of Rahn’s discussion of particular texts. Each chapter, in roughly chronological order, focuses on a separate author or topic. The essays could stand on their own (indeed, the acknowledgments indicate that a number of the essays were originally published in The Lion and the Unicorn although their citations are not given); thus, the book reads more like a collection of essays than a sustained unfolding of a cohesive set of concerns. Scholarly neglect and Rahn’s love are the glue that holds them together. The essays are more than mere “appreciations,” however: Rahn corrects literary history (Frank Stockton, not L. Frank Baum, can lay claim to originating American children’s fantasy, for example), revives controversy (found in Florence Crannell Means’ ethnic fiction), analyzes the role of the cat in children’s literature (highlighting Beverly Cleary’s Socks and Ursula Moray Williams’ Island Mackenzie), and offers a glimpse into the mysteries of the Betsy-Tacy “cult.” Chapters on toy theaters, Selma Lagerlöf’s Nils, Dorothy Canfield’s Made-to-Order Stories, Raymond Briggs’ Fungus the Bogeyman...

Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6563
Print ISSN
0147-2593
Pages
pp. 446-448
Launched on MUSE
1997-09-01
Open Access
No
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