- Textual Transformations in Children’s Literature: Adaptations, Translations, Reconsiderations ed. by Benjamin Lefebvre
In “Middle Age,” her editorial introduction to the Summer 2013 issue of Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, Katharine Capshaw Smith reflected on “the gaps and absences in our work” as scholars as the ChLA approached its fortieth annual conference, noting, after an informal poll of members on Facebook, “There is still much work to be done, entire subjects and genres that have not received substantial scholarly attention” (133). Among other areas, Smith encouraged the field to “consider further intervention in wider discussions about adaptation, for instance, in order to make clear the particular dimensions and stakes of children’s texts in relationship to source materials. Further theorization of children’s adaptations of ‘the classics’ would [End Page 331] be welcomed by many who are considering larger questions about the relationship between sites of study within English departments” (134).
This idea must be in the Zeitgeist, because two relevant edited collections have come out the same year as Smith’s call to action: Anja Müller’s Adapting Canonical Texts in Children’s Literature (also reviewed in this volume, and to which I contributed a chapter); and Benjamin Lefebvre’s Textual Transformations in Children’s Literature, which, in his own words, “offers new critical approaches to the study of adaptations, abridgments, translations, parodies, and mash-ups that occur internationally in the field of children’s literature and culture,” following recent shifts in adaptation studies “toward a methodology that considers the adaptation to be always already in conversation with the adapted text” (2). In the Winter 2013 issue of Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, Balaka Basu provides an excellent review of Lefebvre’s collection, including informed and insightful summaries and assessments of the introduction and eleven chapters. Rather than reiterate her thoughts here, then, I will quickly summarize Lefebvre’s work and expand on Basu’s conversation.
In this poststructural and multimodal age, adaptation criticism has evolved beyond hierarchical concerns with fidelity, toward understanding adaptation as cultural translation—an approach heavily influenced by such cross-disciplinary theorists as Linda Hutcheon, James Naremore, and Robert Stam. Hence, like Müller, Lefebvre aims to broaden the discussion in the field of children’s literature “to consider the generic, pedagogical, and ideological underpinnings that drive both the process and the product” (Lefebvre 2). This objective is indeed what ties together the wide-ranging materials and approaches within the covers of Textual Transformations, framed by two essays from senior scholars at Cambridge: David Whitley’s opening chapter, “Contested Spaces: Reconfiguring Narratives of Origin and Identity in Pocahontas and Princess Mononoke”; and the final chapter by Maria Nikolajeva, “Beyond Happily Ever After: The Aesthetic Dilemma of Multivolume Fiction for Children.” The nine chapters in between include discussions of graphic novels reproducing neocolonial representations in India (Malini Roy); cross-cultural and transnational translation of Vietnamese folk tales (Hanh Nguyen); prose adaptations of Shakespeare’s Venetian plays (Laura Tosi); the Chalet School stories in the blogosphere (Lisa Migo); cultural shifts in Polish versions of Cinderella (Monika Woźniak); queer book history through a case study of Alice in lesbian pornography (Nat Hurley); female power as represented by a century of [End Page 332] international book covers for Anne of Green Gables (Andrea McKenzie); the reconfiguration of Anne into the hybridized cultural and genre framework of Japanese anime (Emily Somers); and Lefebvre’s own penultimate chapter on the transmedia alterations necessary for the cultural survival of the historically contested Little House on the Prairie.
This list of contents makes plain what could be either the greatest strength of the collection or its greatest weakness, depending on the reader’s purpose. Each essay has something interesting and useful to add to the discussion about its subject, so any scholar working on the primary texts, authors, or genres under discussion could benefit from reading the associated chapters. However, the breadth that provides for variety and inclusiveness of multiple perspectives in a collection such as this also must, by the very nature of the enterprise, leave a...