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Reviewed by:
  • Home Words: Discourses of Children's Literature in Canada
  • Judith Saltman (bio)
Mavis Reimer , ed. Home Words: Discourses of Children's Literature in Canada. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2008.

As the imagining of childhood and home intersect in children's literature, the questions of what constitutes home and personal and cultural identity increasingly inform critical analyses of children's texts. Margaret Meek asks how children's literature "contributes to children's coming to know who they are in the terms of the social sameness and difference that constitute 'national identity'. . ." (vii).

Canada is preoccupied with the questions of an uncertain cultural identity, particularly the experience of Canadianness, and concepts of identity and home have been dominant in Canadian literary and cultural theory. Critics of adult and children's literature have examined texts of the Canadian social and political experiences of colonialism, postcolonialism, immigration, cultural pluralism, and transculturalism, uncovering the ideologies of home and cultural identity. Critics of adult texts, from Margaret Atwood and Northrop Frye to Sarah Corse, have debated the nature of a national Canadian character and literary canon. Until now, however, the ideologies of home, cultural identity, and Canadianness in children's literature have not been fully addressed, a shortcoming this work admirably attempts to [End Page 116] correct. Earlier critical monographs on Canadian children's literature have been more traditional and conservative in approach and limited by the parameters of historical survey and genre approach. Home Words clearly offers a new approach to the criticism of Canadian children's literature.

The concept of cultural identity has been a major interest from the first monograph on Canadian children's literature: Sheila Egoff's The Republic of Childhood: A Critical Guide to Canadian Children's Literature in English (1967). To Egoff, the "study of Canadian children's books . . . can throw some light on the nation itself. . . . They show what Canada and Canadians are like, what values we respect, how we look at ourselves today and at our past . . ." (3–4). Twenty-five years later, in Children's Literature in Canada (1992), Elizabeth Waterston deepens Egoff's argument. She locates intellectual and literary consequences of Canada's geography, history, and political evolution in the markers of national identity present in Canadian children's books, from Aboriginal culture, settlement in a nearly impenetrable land, the varied terrain and expanse of space, biculturalism, the challenges of the social mosaic, and the "subtle differences between the British and French colonizers and the powerful American neighbor. A sense of living in a borderland has enhanced Canadian sympathy for all marginalized life . . ." (3). Elizabeth Galway's From Nursery Rhymes to Nationhood: Children's Literature and the Construction of Canadian Identity (2008) also examines the influence of print and ideology on the formation of a Canadian national identity in an investigation of post-Confederation literature written in English for children from 1867 to 1911. All three writers consider the problematic and ambiguous theme of home in Canadian children's literature.

Other works on this subject are primarily historical surveys, bibliographical catalogs, genre overviews, and biocritical monographs, such as Raymond Jones's and Jon Stott's Canadian Children's Books: A Critical Guide to Authors and Illustrators (2000). These publications have met professional needs in libraries and schools for reference works, and academic needs for course support, but the majority have not positioned the criticism and study of Canadian children's literature within contemporary critical practices.

Within this context, the publication of Home Words is a landmark in the literary criticism of Canadian children's literature. This volume is the result of the child places or home research project, which resulted in a series of readings of the ways in which discourses of home operate and function in different types of Canadian children's texts. The collaborators' views were affected by political contexts in America and Canada following the events of September 11, 2001, and the resulting military actions. As the [End Page 117] contributors exchanged ideas and shared drafts of essays, the resulting volume benefits from a particular cohesion due to the intertexuality of the essay collection, both in textual references and endnotes.

Editor Mavis Reimer and fourteen contributors examine the adult ideologies...


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