- The Nation in Children's Literature: Nations of Childhood ed. by Christopher (Kit) Kelen and Bjorn Sundmark
The Nation in Children's Literature: Nations of Childhood (2013), edited by Christopher (Kit) Kelen and Bjorn Sundmark, is part of Routledge's Children's Literature and Culture series, whose overarching aim is to provide "original research in children's literature and culture" using an "interdisciplinary methodology" (Jack Zipes). Kelen and Sundmark's text is divided thematically into five sections: "The Child and the Nation," "Subversive Tales," "Nations Before and Within," "Empire, Globalization, and Cosmopolitan Consciousness," and "Childhood as Nation Imagined." There are seventeen individual chapters, with contributions from doctoral students and established academics working within a variety of interdisciplinary and multicultural contexts.
Kelen and Sundmark's introduction provides a thorough, critical overview of concepts of nation and nationhood from a historical and etymological perspective, setting the stage for the ensuing chapters. The editors explicitly articulate the overarching ambitions of the volume, including, but not exclusively, how children's literature constructs and represents national experiences, and how the nation is challenged and changed within this genre. They outline how and where these tasks are addressed. I found it particularly helpful that the editors situated their text within the surrounding critical and theoretical discourse on nationhood, thereby illustrating how their contribution is unique. Within the postscript, the editors consider "where children rule." While this is an interesting contribution, new questions are raised; what I felt was lacking was an attempt to "conclude" or summarize the arguments put forth, as a way of reminding the reader of the overarching themes. Their introduction, rather than conclusion, attempts this.
Part One includes three chapters on nationhood and the construction of the child, focusing on texts from Canada and Norway. The overarching argument is that children's literature simultaneously constructs [End Page 93] the child and the nation, and in doing so attempts to create national citizens. Danielle Russell reflects on L.M. Montgomery's Anne, focusing on themes such as home, the orphan, and nature. Russell's chapter balances textual analysis with a critique of the text as a cultural commodity. Her wide-angle approach, whilst providing an interesting overview of the role of Anne as a symbol of Canada, lacks explicit theoretical grounding. On the contrary, Svein Slettan's contribution employs a clearly signposted and theorized argument about the representation of nature in a range of Norwegian young adult texts from the 1930s. His application of Bahktin's chronotope to his reading of these selected texts provides a unique point of departure; he introduces chronotopes of the road, encounter, and threshold to creatively exemplify the tensions between nature and nation. His theoretical framework is contrasted and complemented within the following chapter, wherein Kristen Orjasaeter utilizes Bhabha's conceptualization of nationalism to critique metaphors of nature, also within a Norwegian context.
Part Two begins with a fascinating contribution by Caterina Sinibaldi on the translation of American comics into Italian during the regime of Mussolini. Using a historical and political perspective, Sinibaldi argues that these 'alternative' discourses provided a space for discussion on notions of foreign and national identity. Carrying on from this, Olga Holowina offers an analysis of several poems by Icelandic poet Porarinn Eldjarn, whose poems 'teach and tease' the reader about Icelandic culture through word play and other various literary devices. The poems, she argues, remain "devoid of patriotic loftiness" (79). Helen Kilpatrick and Orie Muta then analyze Uehashi Nahoko's ten-volume, young adult fantasy series, which deconstructs ideologies of otherness and power. Their textual analysis was intercepted with historical and geographical information, which usefully contextualized their argument for the reader. Although the chapters within this particular section can easily be read independently, their strength is brought into focus when read cohesively. The varying text types and use of perspectives, mingled with a range of theoretical, historical, and cultural frameworks, represent how children's literature can powerfully subvert or challenge our constructions of nation and childhood in diverse ways.
Section three grapples with difficult concepts such as imperialism...