- Children and Cultural Memory in Texts of Childhood ed. by Heather Snell and Lorna Hutchinson
As Heather Snell and Lorna Hutchinson state in their introduction to Children and Cultural Memory in Texts of Childhood, the primary purpose of their edited collection is to “explore how childhood becomes a battleground on which competing claims about meaning, territory, and memory itself strive for dominance and control” (8). To this end, the twelve essays included in Snell's and Hutchinson's anthology offer a variety of case studies—ranging from Margaret Cowie's archive of Canadian children's texts to Sonia Sanchez's Afrocentric poetic oeuvre to Arundhati Roy's celebrated novel, The God of Small Things (1997)—that each call attention to the ways in which the figure of the child has been employed in order to both reaffirm and challenge cultural memories of specific communities. As the above examples should make clear, this collection offers close analyses of a number of aesthetic forms, including poetry, novels, music, library archives, architectural manuals, and comics; in doing so, it places into relief the breadth of cultural investments in childhood and memory. Moreover, although many of the essays included in this text specifically study artifacts produced explicitly for child readers—for example, British and U.S. children's books about nuclear war and Laura Ingalls Wilder's ever-popular Little House series—yet others address [End Page 124] representations of childhood in texts produced for adult audiences. Thus, as its title suggests, Children and Cultural Memory in Texts of Childhood should be of interest to scholars of both children's literature and childhood studies.
In their introduction, Snell and Hutchinson offer an intriguing case study of their own that effectively frames the larger theoretical investment of their collection. Here, they perform a close reading of Desmond and the Very Mean Word (2013), a picture book coproduced by Douglas Carlton and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in order to demonstrate the complex relationship between cultural acts of memory and forgetting in texts produced for and/or about children. On the one hand, they argue, this twenty-first-century picture book—which was co-written by one of the most influential figures in the South African Truth and Reconciliation movement—implicitly calls attention to the memory of apartheid and racial strife in its plea for acts of tolerance and forgiveness. On the other hand, however, it does not explicitly identify the specific context of apartheid in which its protagonist, Desmond, experiences both offense and forgiveness, nor does it name the racial slur (or “very mean word”) that inspires the conflict and ultimate resolution of the narrative. Consequently, Snell and Hutchinson argue, the “book refuses to tell a story about apartheid at all, opting instead for a universally applicable tale that emphasizes the importance of interpersonal forgiveness” (3). In turn, they maintain, this specific text—marked as it is by nostalgia, notions of childhood innocence, and repression of traumatic memory—places into relief the problems of representation that occur when dominant (and thus often romantic) discourses of childhood are placed into the service of depicting collective memories of the past. The essays that follow this introductory analysis demonstrate the various degrees to which key cultural artifacts either draw upon or resist idealized visions of both the child and the past. For example, Jenny Glennon's chapter on Edith Wharton's The Glimpses of the Moon (1922) and The Children (1928) accounts for the ways in which Wharton uses child figures simultaneously to critique early twentieth-century U.S. American cultural and political practices and to idealize European culture and history. Likewise, Nora Maguire's essay on post-unification German novels considers how their narrative employment of child focalizers allows them to defer responsibility for Second World War era fascist atrocities.
Thus, Snell and Hutchinson's critical introduction offers a provocative and cohesive framework for the many excellent essays contained within their collection. Nevertheless, it could have benefitted from a more detailed account of its central, motivating category—that is, cultural memory. Although the introduction begins with...