The problems of children’s literature

Reading critical theory in children’s literature is a fascinating process. Like education, almost everyone has an opinion on children’s literature, because we have all experienced it. From the non-specialist, the opinion can be dismissive (despising adults who read children’s of YA fiction; Amis stating that he’d need a brain injury to write for children), didactic (criticising YA for being too dark- linking the Hunger Games to Elliot Rogers shooting) or misty eyed and nostalgic.

Similarly, the pedagogic approach can be utilitarian- teachers often talk about “using” texts in the classroom, often to teach language knowledge or morals, at the expense of encouraging the excitement and pleasure of reading.

Maria Nikolajeva’s ‘The Identification Fallacy’ in Telling Children’s Stories ed Mike Cadden is challenging many of my thoughts at the moment. She cites Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden as a good case in identification with the protagonist- how are we supposed to read her? At the beginning of the novel, she is a selfish, whining, racist brat. Yet we empathise with her; her behaviour doesn’t make her happy, and a sophisticated reader knows that her upbringing has formed her character. So when we’re considering the need for children to see themselves in their books- which I firmly believe, having read testimony from students who have limited experience of doing so- do we need to consider more widely than external identification?

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