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Don't rush through:Your eyes needtime to taste.Your soul needsroom to bloom.

—Kwame Alexander, How to Read a Book

As I prepared to write this introduction, my mind kept returning to the idea of looking—at books, at screens, at each other. Certainly, each of the four articles that make up this issue takes up the idea of looking in specific ways, from their explicit concerns about how characters are seen by those around them to their interest in adaptations from page to stage or screen. These articles provide particular insights into the myriad ways that young people are caught up in systems of looking, perhaps best represented by the various prepositions we attach to that verb: children are looked at and looked after; children look to and look for; children remind us of the past we look back on and represent the future we look forward to. Like the circus image on the cover of this issue and the freak shows discussed in Nabilah Khachab's article, characters in children's and young adult literature, especially marginalized characters, are frequently figured as objects that others are invited or feel welcome to stare at and comment on. In turn, adaptations of popular children's literature frequently depend on visual spectacle that further implicates the child—this time, as reader and/or viewer—in systems of looking.

Indeed, looking has been central to quite a few children's and young adult texts. We might recall Alice slipping through the looking-glass, Harold searching for his own bedroom window to look through, Harriet spying on her friends and family, or, in more recent texts, Melody's photographic memory in Sharon Draper's Out of My Mind and Steve's haunting final question in Walter Dean Myers's Monster. Furthermore, following in the models of Rudine Sims Bishop's seminal "Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors" (1990) and other work urging us to consider groups we frequently don't see in children's literature and [End Page 1] media, we must investigate how children's texts can allow readers to perceive and contemplate the experiences of those who are unlike themselves.1

Such considerations are crucial to Khachab's article "Freak Show: Religiously Marginalized Female Bodies as Spectacle in Second-Generation Literature," in which she investigates the role of looking in two recent young adult novels featuring Muslim protagonists, Randa Abdel-Fattah's Does My Head Look Big in This? (2005) and S. K. Ali's Saints and Misfits (2017). For both Abdel-Fattah's Amal and Ali's Janna, the decision to wear the hijab leads to their being the objects of others' curiosity and derision. Placing these contemporary texts in conversation with nineteenth- and twentieth-century freak shows, Khachab notes the ways in which the treatment of young hijabis as spectacles functions as part of a larger effort to "freak" Islamic traditions. However, she argues, Amal and Janna offer compelling models for subverting misrepresentations, asserting counternarratives, and ultimately participating in a much longer tradition of resisting the marginalizing efforts of treating people as spectacles.

Paddington Bear, the subject of Philip Smith's "Paddington Bear and the Erasure of Difference," also calls to mind questions of looking, most obviously in the tag Paddington wears that implores its reader to "Please look after this bear." While Michael Bond's famous ursine character does find himself properly looked after by the Brown family, he also finds himself looked at as he navigates his new home. Smith argues that in both Bond's books and their two recent film adaptations, Paddington can be understood as a child immigrant who is welcomed into British society not because of his vulnerability or Britain's openness to newcomers, but because Paddington himself does not pose a threat to established—and limited—understandings of Englishness. Despite the efforts of the films in particular to locate Paddington in a postracial fantasy, Smith notes, both books and films actually reinforce the expectations of conformity and sameness instead of welcoming and celebrating difference.

Malin Alkestrand's article "Harry Potter and the Curse of Aetonormativity: Age-Related Cognitive Scripts and a Disruption of 'the Harry Potter Literary Schema' in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" focuses on the spectacle-driven play based on J. K. Rowling's series of novels. Applying a cognitive theoretical lens to the Harry Potter franchise as a whole, Alkestrand asserts that the original series establishes what she calls "the Harry Potter literary schema," an interplay of two common representations of children—Maria Nikolajeva's "controlled child" and Clémentine Beauvais's "mighty child." In turn, she argues, The Cursed Child upsets this schema by displaying an adult Harry who works constantly to control his own son, denying young Albus the possibility of achieving the status of mighty child that in many ways defined Harry's own childhood—a characterization that angered many fans and ultimately suggests that adult normativity will always inevitably work to disempower children.

Finally, in "'It's off-book!': Developing Serial Complexity across Media in A Series of Unfortunate Events," Sara Tanderup Linkis explores the multidirectional implications for adaptation represented by the Lemony Snicket series [End Page 2] and its various reworkings. (Incidentally but notably for the purposes of this discussion, the theme song of the Netflix series implores viewers to "Look away"—a command that it clearly expects them to disregard.) Beginning with an examination of how seriality functions in the novels and then expanding her investigation to the Netflix series, Tanderup Linkis argues that A Series of Unfortunate Events challenges and complicates the assumption that serialized fiction will necessarily be formulaic and repetitive. In particular, she notes the ways in which this transmedial franchise asserts the importance of self-reflexivity and critical engagement with literature in ways that challenge us to look differently at traditional hierarchies, not least of which is the power dynamic between children and adults.

Ultimately, in fact, these articles' considerations of looking all provide insights into key relationships, power structures, and hierarchies encountered by young characters and young readers alike. And, above all, I am struck by how this issue's essays guide me to see these works not only in terms of the ethics and politics of how we look at, after, and out for children, but also how important it is to consider ways to look with them.

Notes

1. Indeed, an infographic by David Huyck and Sarah Park Dahlen reporting the 2018 statistics about diversity gathered by the Cooperative Children's Book Center depends upon the metaphor of looking at oneself in a mirror. On one side of the image, a white child sees himself reflected in a large number and wide variety of mirrors; on the other, children representing American Indian/First Nations, Latinx, Asian Pacific Islander/Asian Pacific American, and African/African American populations have only small, cracked mirrors in which to see themselves.

Works Cited

Alexander, Kwame. How to Read a Book. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Harper, 2019.
Huyck, David, and Sarah Park Dahlen. "Diversity in Children's Books 2018." Created in consultation with Edith Campbell, Molly Beth Griffin, K. T. Horning, Debbie Reese, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Madeline Tyner, with statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children's Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Sarahpark.com, 19 June 2019. https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2019/06/19/picture-this-diversity-in-childrens-books-2018-infographic/.
Sims Bishop, Rudine. "Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors." Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, vol. 6, no. 3, 1990.

Additional Information

ISSN
1553-1201
Print ISSN
0885-0429
Pages
1-3
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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