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Reviewed by:
  • New Voices in Children’s Literature Criticism
  • Ruth Mirtz (bio)
Chapleau, Sebastien . New Voices in Children’s Literature Criticism. Staffordshire, England: Pied Piper P, 2004.

This slim volume provides a collection of thirteen short essays on such wide-ranging topics as intertextuality, queer theory, race and ethnicity, authorship, publication, and nationality. As Perry Nodelman points out in [End Page 445] the preface, the "new voices" are actually fresh takes and creative perspectives on ideas in children's literature that have been around awhile. Nodelman claims too many new books treat children's literature as some kind of untouched ground, unaware of or not crediting their critical forebears from decades of research and scholarship in children's literature (5). These essays as a whole, then, perhaps evoke a metaphor of planting new seeds in old ground, rather than breaking new ground, in traditional areas of concern to scholars of children's literature. (Incidentally, Nodelman's riff on Madonna's criticism of children's literature that "there's like no books on anything" is the first critical essay I've giggled over in years.) Indeed, each essay does an admirable job of creating either a new borderland in critical space or pointing out a problematic borderland in the critical space of children's literature. Several of the essays delve into the issue of the dual child-adult audience. Peter Hunt, in his essay "The Knowledge: What Do You Need to Know to Know Children's Literature?" posits that critical study of children's literature is necessarily cross- and inter-disciplinary and needs to be "accessible" as a result of "the irreducible core" of children's literature texts: "a negotiation (or a struggle) between author, material, and audience" where the audience is always children and authors always adults (10). Not all of the essays after Hunt's opening follow his suggestion to be accessible, but most of them approach questions about that tantalizing irreducible core, and several move from core concepts to predictions about the future of children's literature.

Most of the essays in New Voices explore this issue of the tension between child reader and adult writer in children's literature. Several selections focus on the continuing power of adults over what children read and how children are portrayed in books. Laura Atkins, in "A Publisher's Dilemma: The Place of the Child in the Publication of Children's Books," adds another interesting narrative of the publishing process to our small store of such stories. Her essay questions what drives the publishing industry and where the child reader comes into play in the publishing process. Her answer, that the adult readers (teachers, librarians, parents) are the stronger forces in what gets published and how, comes through two stories: one of how Sammy and the Dinosaurs was published in English (written by Atkins) and then revised for American audiences; and second about DeShawn Days, a book of poetry by Tony Medina. Atkins's essay is echoed later in the book, when Gabriele Thomson-Wohlgemuth describes what happened to children's literature in translation in East Germany before reunification. Thomson-Wohlgemuth explains that while East German texts for children had to [End Page 446] conform to the enterprise of creating children who fit in with the political doctrines of the socialist government, Western countries also have didactic and ideological goals for children's literature which creates limits and censors certain books in predictable ways. The adult power over children's literature thus may result in less interesting and diverse selections available in all Western cultures. Likewise, Ann Alston's essay, "There's No Place Like Home: The Ideological and Mythological Construction of House and Home in Children's Literature" sent me back to my picture book collection, looking for what she identifies as the essential "home" in children's literature: a family sitting at a table covered by a tablecloth with a bureau in the background. Alston's point is that, even though families and homes have changed drastically, the image of home in children's books is still a Western "static middle-class perspective," now a myth that adults are trying to sell, emphasizing again that adults control children by...


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pp. 445-449
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