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  • Affiliations
  • Claudia Nelson

Perhaps it is inevitable that in a polarized world, children's literature will function as a tool to aid in socializing children into particular loyalties by defining what it means to be a citizen of a given country, a member of a given social group, a believer in a given ideology. To be sure, young people may eventually reject the affiliations that their elders urge upon them, but adults nonetheless understand as a major part of their responsibility the task of telling children "who they are"—and who they should be. In ways both large and small, children's literature assists materially in this defining process, and as scholars of this literature, we thus devote considerable energy to exploring how the task is approached, not always successfully, in works both old and new.

Delineating groups and then encouraging membership in one group or another has been a preoccupation of texts for children for as long as children's literature has existed. Striking early examples include James Janeway's A Token for Children: Being an Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy and Exemplary Lives and Joyful Deaths, of Several Young Children (1671), a work that urges children to affiliate with the company of the elect and whose considerable popularity and influence suggests that Puritans considered it a desirable tool for this purpose. And while today Janeway's celebratory attitude toward infant mortality (or at least the mortality of particularly good infants) is unusual, we continue to believe that children ought to understand themselves as members of groups defined by terms potentially including religion, ethnicity, nation, and more. We just don't always agree on what these groups should stand for, which is a matter with which children's literature—in its contradictory ways—is happy to help.

The articles in the present issue of ChLAQ all focus on works written since the Second World War, and indeed primarily on works written in or after the 1990s. All the texts discussed here are concerned with questions of affiliation, whether their own or that of their child readers. Both types of question concern Sara C. VanderHaagen in "A Tale of Two Wheatleys: The Biographical Fiction of Shirley Graham and Ann Rinaldi." Contrasting Graham's The Story of Phillis Wheatley: Poetess of the American Revolution (1949) with Rinaldi's Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons: The Story of Phillis Wheatley (1996), VanderHaagen [End Page 237] explores shifting understandings of what "fiction" and "nonfiction," "history" and "entertainment," may comprise. She concludes that among the significant differences between Graham's and Rinaldi's approaches is one bearing directly on the extent to which the child reader is urged to affiliate with a specific sensibility: Graham "lays out clear positions for the reader to occupy with regard to significant historical issues such as slavery,"whereas Rinaldi "demonstrates a persistent ambivalence" toward these issues, an ambivalence that VanderHaagen attributes to 1990s anxieties about overt displays of didacticism.

VanderHaagen's article has much to say on the topic of public memory, and memory is central as well to our next offering, Marnina Gonick's "Our Canadian Girl: Technologies of Memory for Cartographies of Distress." Here Gonick examines works from the early 2000s published in Penguin's Our Canadian Girl series to unpack "how these books may function as 'technologies of memory' . . . performing important cultural work in constituting, consolidating, and perhaps reimagining national identity." As she sees it, the series' central aim is to define Canada and Canadianness, which it does in terms of divisions and disasters that bring out the best in the girl protagonists. "Map[ping] the fissures of class and social inequalities as a feature of life in Canada," the novels also engage in "smoothing over [the] resolution" of these differences, a process presumably designed to assist patriotic affiliation on the part of a diverse group of imagined readers.

The appeal to feminist principles on display in the texts that Gonick analyzes is still more overt in the output of the French publishing house Talents Hauts, the subject of Julie Fette's contribution to this issue. Founded in 2005 with the mission of producing "antisexist children's literature," Talents Hauts is the only French...


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pp. 237-239
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