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Telling Children's Stories

Narrative Theory and Children's Literature

Edited by Mike Cadden

Publication Year: 2010

The most accessible approach yet to children’s literature and narrative theory, Telling Children’s Stories is a comprehensive collection of never-before-published essays by an international slate of scholars that offers a broad yet in-depth assessment of narrative strategies unique to children’s literature. The volume is divided into four interrelated sections: “Genre Templates and Transformations,” “Approaches to the Picture Book,” “Narrators and Implied Readers,” and “Narrative Time.” Mike Cadden’s introduction considers the links between the various essays and topics, as well as their connections with such issues as metafiction, narrative ethics, focalization, and plotting. Ranging in focus from picture books to novels such as To Kill a Mockingbird, from detective fiction for children to historical tales, from new works such as the Lemony Snicket series to classics like Tom’s Midnight Garden, these essays explore notions of montage and metaphor, perspective and subjectivity, identification and time. Together, they comprise a resource that will interest and instruct scholars of narrative theory and children’s literature, and that will become critically important to the understanding and development of both fields.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Frontiers of Narrative

Title Page

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pp. iii

Copyright Page

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pp. iv

Table of Contents

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xxv

To introduce this collection of essays on narrative theory and children’s literature, I’d like your indulgence as I discuss one area of narrative theory that takes on different implications when discussed in the context of children’s literature: the peritext...

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Part One: Genre Templates and Transformations

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pp. 3-61

Part 1 takes on the large matter of genre as a narrative consideration in children’s and young adult literature. The opening essay by Elisabeth Rose Gruner examines how the overt and covert fairy-tale structures used in young adult realism and fantasy for girls continue to attempt to offer models of behavior...

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1. Telling Old Tales Newly: Intertextuality in Young Adult Fiction for Girls

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pp. 3-21

In one of the inaugural articles in feminist literary criticism, “Feminism and Fairy Tales,” Karen Rowe followed Simone de Beauvoir’s lead in claiming that fairy tales structure the consciousness of girls and women, and in a negative way. As Donald Haase has noted, “In Rowe’s view, the fairy tale—perhaps precisely because of its ‘awesome imaginative power’—had a role to play in cultivating equality among men and women...

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2. Familiarity Breeds a Following: Transcending the Formulaicin the Snicket Series

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pp. 22-43

The fiction series stands out in the realm of children’s literature for several reasons. A popular format since its inception in the nineteenth century, series books have always targeted children.1 Twentieth-century series, Deirdre Johnson asserts, “rest firmly on a nineteenth-century foundation” (147)...

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3. The Power of Secrets: Backwards Construction and the Children’s Detective Story

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pp. 44-61

As a narrative form, the mystery is structured around the distance between an event, most often a crime, and the revelation of secrets surrounding that event by the end of the story. Mysteries function by suspending knowledge, prolonging the uncertainty for pleasure. The joys of reading a good mystery reside in our drive to discover...

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Part Two: Approaches to the Picture Book

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pp. 63-161

This part moves us from a larger discussion of genre into a more specific look at the structural form that is unique to children’s literature. This part is the book’s largest in acknowledgment of the picture book’s importance as a unique genre within a genre. In fact the picture book in many ways defines the larger genre and points...

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4. Focalization in Children’s Picture Books: Who Sees in Words and Pictures?

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pp. 65-85

In our image-dominated era, it is important to examine who sees, since, as Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen note, “Seeing has, in our culture, become synonymous with understanding. We ‘look’ at a problem. We ‘see’ the point. We adopt a ‘viewpoint.’ We ‘focus’ on an issue. We ‘see things in perspective.’ The world ‘as we see it’ (rather than ‘as we know it’...

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5. No Consonance, No Consolation: John Burningham’s Time to Get Out of the Bath, Shirley

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pp. 86-99

The interpretation of childhood and children’s literature seems to be immune to change, at least a radical change, and traditions and stereotypes appear to dwell longer than in other social and cultural areas.1 This is most probably why much of the subversiveness embedded in childhood and its folklore, culture, and literature passes unnoticed...

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6. Telling the Story, Breaking the Boundaries: Metafiction and the Enhancement of Children’s Literary Development in The Bravest Ever Bear and The Story of the Falling Star

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pp. 100-119

Recent cultural interest in metafiction—fiction about fiction—has found a strong voice in children’s literature.1 The Bravest Ever Bear (text by Allan Ahlberg and illustrations by Paul Howard, 1999) simultaneously pays attention to this interest and to the needs and understanding of its primary audience of young readers with great success...

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7. Perceiving The Red Tree: Narrative Repair, Writerly Metaphor, and Sensible Anarchy

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pp. 120-139

“Sometimes the day begins with nothing to look forward to / things go from bad to worse / darkness overcomes you”: The Red Tree is a picture book that dismantles dichotomies and hierarchies of certainty and invokes the muses of perception. Readers must open themselves to the unusual. Shaun Tan’s allegorical narrative and profoundly affecting page openings...

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8. Now Playing: Silent Cinema and Picture-Book Montage

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pp. 140-161

In 1926, after illustrating an edition of George MacDonald’s The Light Princess, children’s artist Dorothy P. Lathrop compared the artistic imagination and film spectatorship: “To think in terms of illustration is to put one’s self in a projection room, where the story unfolds in a series of pictures which leap into the mind as complete and as silently as if falling upon a moving picture screen...

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Part Three: Narrators and Implied Readers

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pp. 163-227

As Chris McGee’s essay in the previous part considers the blending of forms from different times, the opening essay in this part, Holly Blackford’s “Uncle Tom Melodrama with a Modern Point of View: Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird,” considers the implications for the interplay of a Victorian story pattern of reform with the modernist strategy of using an alienated narrator...

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9. Uncle Tom Melodrama with a Modern Point of View: Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

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pp. 165-186

Because of Harper Lee’s carefully controlled narrative strategy, young readers feel a great sense of pleasure and accomplishment when reading To Kill a Mockingbird. My recent interview project involving sixty-eight readers of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn...

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10. The Identification Fallacy: Perspective and Subjectivity in Children’s Literature

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pp. 187-208

In Winnie-the-Pooh, chapter 3, “in which Pooh and Piglet go hunting and nearly catch a Woozle,” the two characters, one of which is a Bear with a Very Little Brain, follow some tracks in the snow. They think they are hunting first a Woozle, then two Woozles, then “two Woozles and one, as it might be, Wizzle, or two, as it might be, Wizzles and one, if so it is Woozle” (Milne 35)...

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11. The Development of Hebrew Children’s Literature: From Men Pulling Children Along to Women Meeting Them Where They Are

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pp. 209-227

Jewish women began writing in Hebrew not long before the birth of Hebrew children’s literature. Hebrew children’s literature, that is, texts for children written in the Hebrew language, was born in the framework of the modern revolutions of the Jewish Enlightenment and Hebrew nationalism (Ofek 12–24)...

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Part Four: Narrative Time

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pp. 229-292

This last section, devoted to narrative time, begins with Susan Stewart’s “Shifting Worlds: Constructing the Subject, Narrative, and History in Historical Time Shifts,” a study of the ways children’s historical timeshift narratives make visible the constructedness of storytelling to the child reader. The role of the metafictive continues in Martha Hixon’s discussion...

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12. Shifting Worlds: Constructing the Subject, Narrative, and History in Historical Time Shifts

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pp. 231-250

There are generally two ways in which time is handled in historical fiction written for young readers. Perhaps the most common occurs when the plot is fully positioned in the past. That is, the characters are born and stay in that time period, and the plot reflects their world. There are no explicit intrusions from the present. While the present informs these novels...

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13. “Whose Woods These Are I Think I Know”: Narrative Theory and Diana Wynne Jones’s Hexwood

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pp. 251-267

Young adults, and the books written for and about them, are keenly interested in growing up or in achieving autonomy through the development of an individual sense of self and how that self connects to the world in which the young adult is expected to function. In other words young adults are very much engaged in the writing...

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14. “Time No Longer: The Context(s) of Time in Tom’s Midnight Garden

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pp. 268-292

In Tom’s Midnight Garden wishes magically come true: when Tom Long arrives at his aunt and uncle’s flat, he longs for a garden (his “longing” is even expressed in his name), and then he finds one; in a manner familiar from fairy tales, the wish for something leads to its appearance. Yet he can only enter the garden at midnight; during daytime it is gone, and all that Tom finds in its place is a backyard with dustbins...

Further Reading

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pp. 293-302


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pp. 303-306


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pp. 307-317

E-ISBN-13: 9780803234093
E-ISBN-10: 0803234090
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803215689
Print-ISBN-10: 0803215681

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 7 illustrations
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Frontiers of Narrative