That the process of looking at separate things together—comparing, contrasting, considering from different angles—teaches us is a fundamental premise even of books for the very young. “One fish / two fish / red fish / blue fish,” begins a classic work by Dr. Seuss, continuing, “Black fish / blue fish / old fish / new fish. / This one has / a little star. / This one has a little car. / Say! what a lot / of fish there are” (n. pag.). And while the two blue fish in the quoted passage may well be a single fish pictured twice (Seussian style is such that it’s hard to make this call), context matters: the blue fish doesn’t look quite the same when it’s with the black fish as it did with the red fish, and in the next double-page spread it appears still more changed by the company of the “glad” fish versus that of the “very, very bad” fish. Enumerating the range of types that makes up that “lot / of fish” invites the young child not only to learn to recognize the word “fish” on the page but also to take pleasure in difference by thinking about what makes each creature special. Significantly, this cognitive exercise requires that the fish be presented as a group.
In their different ways, the articles in this issue draw our attention to the value of considering combinations. We begin with LuElla D’Amico’s “The Journey to American Womanhood: Travel and Feminist Christian Rebellion in Susan Warner’s The Wide, Wide World and Martha Finley’s Elsie’s Girlhood,” which offers the combination not only of two nineteenth-century sentimental novels that share key plot elements (indeed, as D’Amico notes, Finley’s novel implicitly acknowledges its debt to Warner’s earlier best seller by identifying the latter as a text that entrances Elsie) but also of the concepts of travel and rebellion. Warner’s and Finley’s girl protagonists both journey and rebel within socially acceptable limits; they move from one family member to another and assert their right to self-determination in ways that clearly indicate their obedience to God’s authority. By examining these two texts in combination, D’Amico establishes that the way in which they invite readers to feel, and to value, “a sense of mobility within the prevailing confining paradigms” of nineteenth-century femininity is neither unique nor accidental, but part of a larger conversation within sentimental American fiction over a generation. [End Page 1]
Stephanie L. Derrick’s “The Transatlantic Reception of The Chronicles of Narnia and of C. S. Lewis as a Children’s Book Author in the 1950s and 1960s, Compared” combines two reception studies of the same writer in order to argue that the very different British and American responses to Lewis’s heptalogy in the mid-twentieth century arose from cultural differences that have considerable significance for the history of children’s publishing. Whereas esteemed Victorian writers from Charles Dickens to W. M. Thackeray to Robert Browning produced works for young readers, the failure of many members of the twentieth-century British “literary elite” to follow this lead helped to prompt Lewis to assist in filling the gap. Yet in part because British critics were slower than their US counterparts to consider children’s literature worthy of serious notice, the Narnia books met with a less positive response in their homeland than they did across the Atlantic. Derrick’s investigation provides a case study in the value of considering the larger social contexts that participate both in the creation of youth literature and in how it is read by adult literary gatekeepers.
In this issue’s third article, “Death in Signifiers: Words and Pictures in Three International Picture Books,” Newton Freire Murce Filho takes as his source texts a Canadian, a Brazilian, and a Portuguese picture book dealing with the aftermath of a grandparent’s death. Building upon Perry Nodelman and Mavis Reimer’s point that “a picture book contains at least three stories. There is the one told by the words, the one implied by the pictures, and the one that results from the combination of the other two” (qtd...