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Reviewed by:
  • Adapting Canonical Texts in Children’s Literature ed. by Anja Müller, and: Shakespeare for Young People: Productions, Versions and Adaptations by Abigail Rokison
  • M. Tyler Sasser (bio)
Adapting Canonical Texts in Children’s Literature, edited by Anja Müller. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013.
Shakespeare for Young People: Productions, Versions and Adaptations, by Abigail Rokison. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013.

Adaptation studies is changing how we read, think, teach, and write about much of children’s literature. Influence, abridgment, translation, parody, genre-crossing, mash-up, series, intertextuality, intermediality, and appropriation are terms we frequently employ in the field. Thus, it is hardly surprising that a canon of scholarship addressing children’s literature and adaptation has emerged in recent years.1 Many of these books, including those reviewed here, exist within the wake of Linda Hutcheon’s superb A Theory of Adaptation (2006). Hutcheon’s approach to adaptation encompasses not only narrative strategies, but also the genres in which they are presented. Her book is most noteworthy for its landmark manifesto that adaptation studies should abandon fidelity as the sole criterion by which we consider adaptation (6). As Hutcheon explains, it is “no accident that we use the same word—adaptation—to refer to the process and the product” (7); the primary purpose of this review is to observe how Anja Müller’s and Abigail Rokison’s texts focus on both process and product as they explore adaptations for children, not only regarding how the adaptations modify their source texts but also in their own right as individual artistic creations.

Anja Müller’s impressive Adapting Canonical Texts in Children’s Literature is quite similar in terms of scope and purpose to another important collection of essays published in 2013, Benjamin Lefebvre’s Textual Transformations in Children’s Literature: Adaptations, Translations, Reconsiderations (also reviewed later in this volume). 2 But whereas Lefebvre’s collection is relatively more varied—comprising American, British, Vietnamese, Polish, Indian, Canadian, and Swedish adapted children’s texts—Müller opts to concentrate exclusively on adaptations of the Western canon; at least, that is what her title suggests. Indeed, one potential drawback of Müller’s collection is what might be perceived as a lack of diversity: not as represented by international contributors, theoretical approaches, or explored literary genres, but because of the small number of “canonical texts” whose adaptations are discussed. Six of the thirteen chapters focus exclusively on Shakespeare, and eleven center on adaptations of canonical British literature. Fortunately, [End Page 316] however, their authors do embrace multiple genres within the world of Shakespeare-for-children.

The first three chapters follow in the footsteps of Charles and Mary Lamb, Mary Cowden Clarke, and E. Nesbit by considering prose adaptations of the Bard. Laura Tosi’s chapter focuses on the similar ideological work of Victorian, Edwardian, and contemporary novelizations of Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice for girl readers, such as their authors’ decision to “focus on a traditionally undeserving or marginalized female character, the construction of a fictional sequel . . . and the investigation of the (formal, emotional, religious) education, or lack of it, received by the heroines” (9). Jana Mikota considers how Mirjam Pressler, a contemporary German author of children’s fiction, rewrites The Merchant of Venice in Shylocks Tochter (Shylock’s Daughter), as well as Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s Nathan the Wise (1779) in Nathan und seine Kinder (Nathan and His Children). In both cases, Pressler’s adaptations are influenced heavily by the Shoah, and by the author’s own desire to preserve this collective experience and present it to future generations. Eva Oppermann assesses how Tad Williams’s Caliban’s Hour addresses issues of “civilization and education” for a young audience, and how Susan Cooper’s King of Shadows depicts a boy character who learns from Shakespeare (as a historical writer) how to accept death if he wishes to overcome trauma and continue to mature (43).

By focusing on visual adaptations of Shakespeare, the next three chapters collectively encourage us to become more cognizant of visual illiteracies within childhood culture. Maddalena Pennacchia considers how the Animated Tales from Shakespeare was conceived, created, and helped to establish a Shakespearean canon for children. More importantly...


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pp. 316-324
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