restricted access “Never Do What Your Mother Tells You to Do”: Nonsense and the Interrogative Function in Annie M. G. Schmidt’s Children’s Poetry

Hans Christian Andersen Award (of 1988) winning author Annie M.G. Schmidt is as well-known for her work as she is for the aftereffects of her work in the Netherlands. In post-WWII 1950s Dutch society, children’s literature was supposed to stop the alleged cultural and social ‘decay’ among children. “Nonsense!” Annie M.G. Schmidt must have thought to herself, not to deny children’s literature its societal relevance but as a much healthier alternative to the moralistic pedagogy of her predecessors. This article will illustrate how Schmidt’s innovation of Dutch children’s literature, and especially children’s poetry, is indebted to the nonsense tradition. After a short introduction of Annie M.G. Schmidt, a parade of characters from her children’s poetry will pass by to attest to Schmidt’s rightful admission to the international gallery of nonsense authors. Moreover, specific examples will show how Schmidt employed nonsense strategies to playfully subvert received paradigms of morality, adult superiority, and literary genres associated with children’s poetry at the time. It is especially this more ideological, carnivalesque, interrogative function, I argue, that ultimately earned Schmidt the status of “innovator of Dutch children’s poetry.”