Children's Literature and Imaginative Geography ed. by Aïda Hudson
Aïda Hudson situates her edited collection at the intersection of three concentric ideas surrounding place: Edward Said's imaginative geographies, Lawrence Buell's place attachment, and the idea of mythical spaces. The volume's seventeen essays are divided into four sections with two [End Page 87] interludes and a postlude. Some of the authors in the collection engage with Said's imaginative geographies, while others use postcolonial and ecocritical theories in conjunction with Buell's place-attachment theory. Still others explore particular spaces, or topoi, and their relationship to power structures and binaries (14).
Part 1 contains six essays divided into two sections. The first three are grounded in the Old World, while essays four through six "reflect viewpoints that are 'landed' in the New World" (15). In chapter 1, "Pullman and Imperialism: Navigating the Geographic Imagination in The Golden Compass," scholar Cory Sampson traces imperialist themes in His Dark Materials by positing that Lyra's universe is reminiscent of Victorian Britain. While Sampson doesn't necessarily argue that The Golden Compass is "'unconcealedly'" imperialist, his work investigates the series' imperialist themes of geographical exploration, child adventurers, and the ethnic "othering" of non-Europeans (43). In "Nineteenth-Century British Children's Literature and the North," Colleen M. Franklin does similar work in mapping imperialist themes and tropes. Margot Hillel also traces imperialism in "Envisioning Ireland: Landscape and Longing in Children's Literature," focusing on nineteenth-century Ireland and the unique migration of Irish citizens away from "our land" to the New World.
Hillel's piece transitions the section nicely to essays focused on North America. In "From Vanity to World's Fair: The Landscape of John Bunyan's Allegory in Frances Hodgson Burnett's Two Little Pilgrims' Progress," Shannon Murray maps a third imaginary landscape that orphan protagonists Meg and Robin create when they find a copy of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and leave their farm home to set out for Chicago's World Exposition. Their imagined geography is a rejection of both the rural life that they have left as well as the industrial city that they travel to. Both Linda Knowles and Petra Fachinger conclude part 1 with essays that illustrate a restorative connection back to indigenous spaces—in particular, the harsh Canadian wilderness—which they argue creates fertile ground for imaginative geographies in fiction written for children.
In the first interlude, Hudson offers her audience a change of genre in the interview "History, Hills, and Lowlands: In Conversation with Janet Lunn." Lunn, a prolific writer of Canadian historical fiction for young adults, talks about the connection between Canadian geography and mythology in several of her novels. The interview functions well as a transitional piece from themes of imperialism and migration to a series of essays in part 2 on particular topoi, or "places like gardens, a riverbank, and a rural countryside," and their particular connection to a child's geographical imagination (17).
In chapter 8, "How Does Your Garden Grow? The Eco-Imaginative Space of the Garden in Contemporary Children's Picture Books," Melissa Li Sheung Ying focuses on the importance of the garden as an educational space for children, arguing that it invites them into a greater environmental consciousness and, [End Page 88] hopefully, activism. Ying's analysis of the interplay of text and image is particularly effective, calling attention to the parallel of text with visual elements such as color transitions and the use of panels.
While Ying's essay focuses on both image and text, Alan West's "Into the (Not So) Wild: Nature Without and Within in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows" focuses primarily on the textual representations of Grahame's idyllic landscape. West discusses the lack of "wild" in the work, in which the main characters wear clothing and are civilized—except for the othered stouts and weasels, whose wildness threatens Toad Hall in the climax of the story. West's analysis fits appropriately within the conversation of the Saidian dualism of "ours/theirs" or "tame/wild." Continued scholarship surrounding West's argument might explore this tame/wild dualism as it is represented visually in the many illustrated representations of Willows.
The second interlude contains Deirdre F. Baker's "Earth, Sea and Sky Writing in Becca at Sea," in which Baker challenges the "humanocentricity" of interpretations of imaginative geographies in service to humans (187). Focusing on British Columbia, her own homeland and the backdrop of her novel Becca at Sea, Baker's essay pushes back against Said's dualistic othering and instead explores how to represent geographies in a way that allows them "to be themselves… To celebrate the natural world's Otherness, and human's capacity to apprehend and be moved by that Otherness" (188).
In part 3, both Joanne Findon and Sarah Fiona Winters present essays that look at the effects of remediation on fantasy geographies; Findon analyzes the reimagination of Hans Christian Andersen's North in Eileen Kernaghan's The Snow Queen, and Winters examines the prolonged camping scene in both the novel and the movie versions of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as a "geography of boredom" (216).
In chapter 13, Christine Bolus Reichert locates steampunk for children as a genre that depends on the past as well as on children's "upward" imaginative geographies, and she analyzes the "re-enchantment of flight" in three steampunk novels for children (229). Monika Hilder also looks at mythical re-enchantment, focusing on Madeline L'Engle's Time Quintet. Hilder argues that L'Engle's series "challenges and seeks to repair cultural rationalism with a holistic spirituality" in a move away from the post-Enlightenment rationalism of the day (259).
In chapter 15, Peter Hynes analyzes the gendering of spaces in Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series. In the final essay, Heather Fitzsimmons Frey looks at the material geography of dancers on a stage in theater for young adults. Hudson concludes the collection by including a piece in which Canadian author Alan Cymyn writes on the geographies of his own fiction, exploring the ways in which his past experiences with place have unconsciously woven themselves into his narratives.
The aesthetic design of Children's Literature and Imaginative Geography is beautiful—a compliment worth [End Page 89] noting about an edition concerned with space and materiality. Besides its physical appeal, Hudson's collection provides readers a variety of genres including the critical essay, interview, and narrative prose through which to explore imaginative geographies in children's literature. Readers working through the collection as a whole, as well as those interested in a particular geography or topoi, will find the organization of these essays into four categories by theme to be helpful.
A particular strength of the collection is that the essays included are not just US-centric; the essays touch on works for young people written in the Northern Hemisphere, including Canada, Britain, the US, and Ireland. Because of the geographical diversity of the authors, the critical essays examine important topics in imaginative geographies, such as Indigenous sense of place, emigration from one's homeland to unfamiliar geographies, and a variety of topoi from the gardens of Britain to the coastline of Ireland.
As much as the collection does include essays from a variety of authors in various locations, the authors and essays are restricted to the Northern Hemisphere, leaving a variety of topoi still to be explored, as well as voices from non–English speaking (besides Ireland), non–North American and European countries. The essays are also primarily focused on works of fiction, leaving out other genres of literature for young people such as graphic novels, children's and young adult poetry, and verse novels, on which there is much more work to be done. Further scholarship may explore imaginative geographies across various genres of children's literature.
Hudson's collection invites readers to consider the imaginative geographies that young people encounter in the world of fiction. From the frightening Wild Wood, to the regenerating Secret Garden, to the vast Canadian wilderness, these essays continue necessary dialogue about the places and spaces that characters of children's literature, as well as readers, inhabit and interact with.
Laurel Krapivkin is currently a PhD student in children's literature at Illinois State University. She received her MA in English from San Diego State University. Her research interests include ecofeminism and embodiment in young adult literature.