- Space and Place in Children’s Literature, 1789 to the Present ed. by Maria Sachiko Cecire et al.
Space and Place in Children’s Literature emerged out of a 2009 conference at Keble College, Oxford, organized by the Children’s Literature Oxford Colloquium. According to its four editors, who hail from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany, the aim of this cross-cultural collection is to “engage with such questions about adults and children, real-world spaces, fantasy, and the material book . . . to offer a foundational study of the multivalence of space and place as they are addressed in the analysis of children’s literature” (14). The introduction establishes a background for themes including play and the adult/child dichotomy, and situates the volume in discussions about children’s literature as a space for the negotiation of power. Readings of children’s literature criticism are entwined with interdisciplinary conversations about spatiality, such as geographer Yi-Fu Tuan’s space/place distinction and philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s questions of scale. The overarching argument is that children’s literature “privilege[s] the child’s purported capacity for superior imagination and creativity, making marked-off spaces of power into simultaneous places of play” (3).
Spatiality is crucial for this vacillation between power and play. The editors note how Lyra’s Oxford, in Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights, signifies power relations while remaining a city filled with opportunities for play. Questions raised within this introduction are returned to in an epilogue by Pullman himself, in which the novelist distinguishes between inside, outside, and “elsewhere” spaces in a range of classic texts including his own. The explicit links between the introduction and epilogue bring this edited collection full circle in a satisfying (and rare) manner.
The individual essays, from emerging and established scholars alike, are organized to build a unified whole. Each of the four sections begins with a half-page introduction, followed by a cross-disciplinary reading list pertinent to the questions posed within the section. These mini-introductions and reading lists help the reader situate the chapters across numerous fields of study. The contributors place their arguments in conversation with similar work—including Jane Carroll’s Landscape in Children’s Literature and Terri Doughty and Dawn Thompson’s edited collection Knowing Their Place? Identity and Space in Children’s Literature—while clarifying the ways this new volume addresses numerous genres, historical periods, and critical frameworks.
Peter Hunt’s opening chapter, “Unstable Metaphors: Symbolic Spaces and Specific Places,” explores power imbalances in children’s literature, drawing on a range of well-known texts to examine the socially and physically constructed spaces between adult writers and child readers. Hunt reinforces his disciplinary arguments with reflections on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s overdetermined house and garden in The Secret Garden; Rudyard Kipling’s [End Page 355] “precisely realized landscapes” in Puck of Pook’s Hill (31); “the coherence and fidelity” of Arthur Ransome’s “child-oriented” Swallows and Amazons (32–33); and Kenneth Grahame’s “personal in-joke[s]” in The Wind in the Willows, a text Hunt calls notable for its “manipulation of real spaces. . . . [A]t no point do the inner spaces or external places provide empathy with a childhood state. The empathy is with a childish state, perhaps, but childishness is a feature of adulthood, not childhood” (30). Aneesh Barai’s feminist analysis of Sylvia Plath’s writing for children and Julia Kristeva’s semiotic theory complements Hunt’s discussion of power, honing in on representations of maternity. Barai pays particular attention to authors’ descriptions of the spaces between mother and child in this memorable essay.
Section 2, “Real-World Places,” focuses on identity and locale through an international lens, taking the reader from Italy to the Mexico/U.S. border to South Africa. Francesca Orestano provides a focused analysis of Maria Edgeworth’s The Little Merchants: A Tale. Through her vivid descriptions, Orestano argues that Edgeworth “creates an interstitial space” (27) between England and “exotic” Italy. Another striking contribution...