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  • Bjørn and Børn:Queer Interspecies Kinship in Norway’s First Text for Children
  • Ida Moen Johnson

As Christopher Kelen and Björn Sundmark point out in The Nation in Children’s Literature (2013), the child and the nation are intertwined concepts. The co-emergence of modern childhood and modern nations is no coincidence. Not only do nations need children in order to reproduce themselves (their populations as well as their ideologies), but the metaphor of childhood is critical to the mythos of the nation: nations are “born,” they self-define, they become sovereign (i.e., adult). Indeed, both children and nations are expected to grow up. “The idea of a nation without children,” write Kelen and Sundmark “would be empty of meaning—for it would be to cut it off both from its roots, from a continuously reimagined past, and its potentiality, an always renewed future” (2013, 263).

Children’s literature can be understood as a key mechanism by which children are inculcated in a national identity and cause. In her seminal work, The Case of Peter Pan (1992), Jacqueline Rose argues that children’s literature is a powerful tool by which adults mold and manipulate children. For Rose, children’s literature “seduces” (2) and essentially colonizes the child. Though adults wield significant physical, political, and psychological power over children, Rose’s argument wrongly assumes an immutable power relation between adults and children.1 Scholars since Rose have challenged and nuanced this view. Clémentine Beauvais argues that while adults have authority (the power [End Page 167] of experience), children possess might (the power of life not yet lived) (Beauvais 2015). Marah Gubar argues that children may “see through the seductive propaganda of books that urge them to take part in the project of imperial expansion” (2009, 71) and that child readers may act as collaborators with adult authors in constructing subversive narratives. While national children’s literature can influence children in becoming a certain kind of adult and citizen, child readers—and aspects of the children’s text itself—may resist, delay, or pervert the national and developmental agendas in these texts.

Literature, including children’s literature, plays a critical role in nation-building. When Norway declared independence from Denmark in 1814, however, there was little to speak of in terms of Norwegian literary culture. Though rudimentary reading skills (enough to read the catechism) were almost universal, the reading of literature was mostly restricted to members of the educated civil class (embedsstanden).2 Since publishing within Norway was very limited until about 1850, many books were purchased abroad.3 What few children’s books made their way to Norway in the early nineteenth century were Danish or were translated from European languages and were mostly alphabet books or illustrated readers and encyclopedias. Though there is scant information available about child readership in early nineteenth-century Norway, Sonja Hagemann has drawn on the memoirs of writers who grew up during this time to show there was a strong “leselyst” (1965, 50) [desire to read] among children of the civil class.4 Though these memoirs rarely mention children’s books, the writers recall reading and being read to from books for adults. These accounts also point to a tradition of oral storytelling, especially in the form of folktales (eventyr). Additionally, visual representations from the first half of the nineteenth century in Norway, including the cover illustration of the collected editions of Billed-Magazin for Børn (1838–1839), show children and adults engaged in shared reading practices (fig. 1). This evidence points to how adults and children co-participated in—and [End Page 168]

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Fig 1.

Cover illustration of the collected editions of Billed-Magazin for Børn (Hansen and Asbjørnsen 1838–1839).

arguably co-created—an emerging literary culture in early nineteenth-century Norway.

Child-Animal Figurations in Early Norwegian Texts for Children

Though best known as an author of fiction for adults, the National Romantic author Maurits Hansen (1794–1892) was also a prolific author of texts for children. His story “Lille Alvilde,” first published in 1829, is considered the first original...


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pp. 167-186
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