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Reviewed by:
  • The Nation in Children’s Literature: Nations of Childhood ed. by Christopher (Kit) Kelen, Björn Sundmark
  • Naomi Lesley (bio)
The Nation in Children’s Literature: Nations of Childhood. Edited by Christopher (Kit) Kelen and Björn Sundmark. New York: Routledge, 2013.

The “transnational turn” in literary studies has, for the last two decades, offered literary critics rich new perspectives on texts by decentering ideas of nationhood and national culture, examining how texts are constructed through cultural exchanges that cross national boundaries, and inquiring how these texts, in turn, imagine communities that cross borders. Nevertheless, nations have promoted particular versions of identity and loyalty through the production of “national” literature, and many children’s literature authors have associated themselves with such nation- or empire-building projects; thus more traditionally bounded concepts of nationhood are still relevant and useful for examining many texts. Christopher (Kit) Kelen and Björn Sundmark’s new edited collection contributes to scholarship on national identity and children’s literature by offering a mediation between these two approaches. On the one hand, they make the case that “children’s literatures have constructed and represented historically different national experiences” (4), so that it is important for scholars to continue to examine literature based in a single country and language. On the other hand, they evoke recent challenges to the political and imaginative power of nation-states due to increased migration and supranational structures, and ask, “Will nations, in a new, less bordered context, continue to be defined in terms of childhood? And will future childhoods also be inscribed and circumscribed by the national?” (4). The essays they bring together in this volume represent a variety of approaches to these overarching questions; some offer historically and culturally distinct analyses of the connection between particular national identities and children’s texts, while others examine more transnational constructions of childhood citizenship.

The essays are organized into five sections, which roughly correspond to how they posit the relationship between nationhood and children’s texts. Part one, “The Child and the Nation—Lessons in Citizenship,” includes three essays that connect canonical national children’s novels to the development of particular national identities. In this section, Danielle Russell explores the connection between the development of Anne Shirley’s character in Anne of Green Gables and the development of a nascent Canadian national identity, while Svein Slettan and Kristin Ørjasæter each examine different ways that landscape imagery in Norwegian children’s books is used to build a mythologized national identity. Slettan, in the most interesting essay in this section, explores the various chronotopes that organize 1930s Norwegian exploration narratives, and suggests that while some of these, such as the road and the threshold, reinforce nationalist consolidation and expansion of power, the chronotope of the encounter with nature sometimes [End Page 171] confronts the reader with the limits of national power.

The essays gathered in part two, “Subversive Tales—Critiquing the Nation,” examine how children’s texts that are situated within heavily policed nationalist ideologies might unsettle the nationalist patriotism taught to children in other contexts. Olga Holownia examines the subversive qualities in Icelandic poet Þórarinn Eldjárn’s nonsense poetry; Helen Kilpatrick and Orie Muta uncover critiques of the Japanese nation-state in the Moribito (Guardian) fantasy series; and Sung-Ae Lee and John Stephens argue that the popular South Korean Whispering Corridors (Yeogo Goedam) films use the tropes of Gothic school stories to mirror the social sins that haunt South Korea. This section’s opening essay, Caterina Sinibaldi’s intriguing discussion of the adaptation of American comics in Italy under the Fascist regime, may be of particular interest both to comic book scholars and those interested in transnational children’s media, as it traces changes in how the regime first allowed American comic book characters to be adapted for Italians and then began (unsuccessfully) to censor them.

Part three, “Nations Before and Within,” and part four, “Empire, Globalization, and Cosmopolitan Consciousness,” contain essays that draw upon postcolonial critiques of national identity as bounded and unitary. The articles in the former treat the literatures of people struggling against a colonizing power, while those in the latter examine the children’s literature of...


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pp. 171-173
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