- Space and Place in Children’s Literature, 1789 to the Present ed. by Maria Sachiko Cecire et al.
Spanning a period of over two hundred years and considering both canonical and under-studied texts from two hemispheres, editors Cecire, Field, Finn, and Roy take on an ambitious project in this collection of essays about space and place as represented and problematized in children’s literature. Part of the Ashgate Studies in Childhood series, the collection is not a comprehensive study but rather a source that adds nuance and insight to the work already done in space and place studies. Space and Place in Children’s Literature brings to the forefront the importance of literature for young people in the developing field of spatial literary studies. The essays contained in this collection employ diverse lenses, drawing from psychoanalysis, philosophy, cultural geography, postcolonial theory, and visual analysis.
The editors’ imprint on the book is most strongly observed through the grouping of the essays into four categories. Rather than being organized by chronology or geographic location, the essays are joined thematically. The editors frame the project with [End Page 104] the argument that space and place have an enhanced importance in children’s literature, as evidenced by the prevalence of special places—think Wonderland, Narnia, Hogwarts—that are available only to children. The collection’s organization allows readers to focus on unifying elements that transcend geographical or chronological epistemologies. In fact, one of the most interesting elements of the collection is its resistance to traditional literary and historical approaches to the analysis of written literature. To aid the reader in finding connections between the varied essays in each group, every section begins with a brief description of its organizing principle as well as a helpful subject bibliography. This makes for a cohesive collection that will be useful for both established scholars and students new to the subject area.
In the first section, “The Space between Children and Adults,” Peter Hunt provides an original model for assessing the power balance between the adult (writer/critic) and the child (reader). At one end of the spectrum, Hunt places texts such as Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows (1908), a work whose spaces and places do not “provide empathy with the childhood state” (30). At the other end, Hunt considers works that prioritize the childhood experience, such as Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906). Aneesh Barai further considers the relationship between adult and child in a compelling critique of Sylvia Plath’s often-neglected writing for children, arguing that Plath uses poetic language to disrupt the space between motherhood and childhood.
The second section explores ways in which children’s literature interacts with “Real World Places,” importantly bringing less-canonical texts into the conversation. Francesca Orestano argues that Maria Edgeworth’s “The Little Merchants” (1800) is unique for its use of Naples (rather than England) as a setting. In spite of the foreign location of Edgeworth’s story, the text’s message is one of domesticity: the valorization of English capitalism. Moving transatlantically and into the twentieth century, Renata Morresi considers the hybrid cross-cultural space of the borderlands as represented in Chicano/a children’s literature by Gloria Anzaldúa, Amada Irma Pérez, Juan Felipe Herrera, and Gary Soto. These authors, Morresi suggests, do much to resist the stereotypical and limited depictions of Chicanos/as that prevailed in literature published prior to 1960.
If the first two sections of the book are more place- than space-centered, its second half takes a wide and intriguing turn toward space and spatiality. In the section “Traversing the Imaginary,” the authors map fictional locales to real spaces. Cecire establishes connections between C. S. Lewis’s Narnia and England’s spatial geography, colonial history, and cultural legacy. Similarly, Ruth Feingold demonstrates links between the fictional Southland of Elizabeth Knox’s Dreamland Duet (2005, 2007) and postcolonial New Zealand. While Cecire’s and Feingold’s essays both work adeptly with...