Like our spring issue, ChLAQ 40.2 does not have an official theme, but the articles included here nonetheless share an interest in works in which children serve as the vehicles for social critique. The genres they examine range from comic strips to picture books to young adult dystopian novels and beyond, but together, these articles indicate ways in which literature for children and young adults may interrogate particular social constructs and seek to replace them with others.
We begin with Lara Saguisag’s “Family Amusements: Buster Brown and the Place of Humor in the Early Twentieth-Century Home.” In contrast to critics who see Buster Brown primarily as a subversive text, Saguisag argues that it instructs readers in using humor to shore up the family, an institution widely perceived as under threat during the strip’s heyday. In doing so, however, Buster Brown supported not the family in general but the companionate family in particular, a model inimical to hierarchy. Buster and his parents thus function simultaneously to critique patriarchy and to support what was increasingly offered as an alternative to it.
The main title of Vanessa Joosen’s “Second Childhoods and Intergenerational Dialogues: How Children’s Literature Studies and Age Studies Can Supplement Each Other” speaks to the kind of child-adult exchanges going on both within Buster Brown and in the strip’s crossover appeal, but Joosen’s focus is not on the Progressive Era US but rather on present-day Europe. Using a sample of four award-winning Dutch and British texts, Joosen examines “how old age and intergenerational relationships are constructed” in these works, asking “how insights from age studies can contribute to interpreting and contextualizing these fictional constructs.” Much as Buster Brown, in Saguisag’s reading, privileges both the playful child and the adult who is willing to play along with him, Joosen sees in her selected texts a validating of playful child and playful elder that comes at the expense of authority situated in the (implicitly joyless) middle-aged.
Continuing this focus on the potential social power of play, David Aitchison turns to the concept of “puerility” in “Little Saboteurs, Puerile Politics: The [End Page 101] Child, the Childlike, and the Principled Life in Carl Hiaasen’s Ecotage Novels for Young Adults.” Aitchison reads Hiaasen’s Hoot, Flush, and Scat as indicative of how today’s environmentalist discourse offers “a certain political possibility for the child and the childlike: a license to react strongly, respond playfully, and get into trouble in the name of protecting the environment.” Simultaneously, Aitchison suggests, it is important to recognize that this discourse exists in the context of “a deeply politicized fear of childishness,” so that Hiaasen’s novels may productively be understood as “rethink[ing] what it means for children to be responsible.”
Although Suzanne Collins’s protagonist Katniss Everdeen is famously involved in events designated “games” by her culture, the Hunger Games do not invite the reader to see them as play. We can, however, readily see the discourse of the Games as enabling social criticism, not least because Collins traces how this discourse contributes to the revolution of which Katniss is the public face. Kathryn Strong Hansen’s contribution, “The Metamorphosis of Katniss Everdeen: The Hunger Games, Myth, and Femininity,” combines an examination of Collins’s use of Greek myth with a gender studies approach. Tracing the presence in the trilogy of two feminine archetypes upon which Katniss is invited to model herself, namely Artemis and Philomela, Hansen argues that ultimately Katniss must reject both in order “to create a form of femininity that allows her to break free from her past and to change her society.”
The article section of this issue concludes with a consideration of another contemporary dystopian novel for young adults. Amy Elliot’s “Power in Our Words: Finding Community and Mitigating Trauma in James Dashner’s The Maze Runner” argues that Dashner’s popular novel, the first installment of a trilogy later augmented by a prequel, seeks to school its adolescent readers in a crucial emotional skill by “convey[ing] the nature of trauma and suggest[ing] productive responses to help mitigate grief.” In Elliot’s reading...