TLG 17.1 Introduction

Frame of Reference

Introduction - Give the reader credit for being able to think!

David Beagley

It is a common social condensation of children's literature that it need only be appreciated at the personal level of the individual reader's experience. This definition assumes that the child (or young adult) reads, and reacts (preferably, as required by the adult creating the experience), and the interaction is complete.

Whether a child's capacity to reason and appreciate is only seen to be 'concrete-operational' (Piaget), or limited to their 'zone of proximal development' (Vygotsky), or requiring 'taxonomic scaffolding' (Bloom, Bruner), it is still being defined as a deficit model. The child (or young adult) is defined by what they are NOT, what they CANNOT do, and what must be done for them by adults.

An adult reader is presumed to read, ruminate, reflect, roll the ideas around, respond and (if verbs beginning with R are running short) reach a personal understanding which is still able to be reinterpreted. It is an ongoing conversation to which the adult reader can return year after year to discover new intricacies and 'readings'.

A child reader is usually expected to read, and either enjoy that moment (laugh, cry, sigh, be excited) or learn the behavioural lesson (be good, love your parents, help your friends). The experience is immediate and only really located at that point of interaction with the text. It is seen as a finite, static experience.

Well, if that is so, why then do so many good young readers, strong young readers, enthusiastic young readers, the readers who haunt libraries and bookshops, who devour all the books they can find, who queue for hours to buy the latest story or to meet the author, why do these young readers (and there are a lot of them!) keep reading the same text (how many times for Harry Potter!) over and over, or series read (how many Harrys? How many Unfortunate Events? How many Artemis Fowls, Baby Sitters, Goosebumps, Captain Underpants ….), or leap into the imaginary worlds of vampires, Narnia, Dark Materials (there's a juxtaposition!), Panem, Hogwarts etc. etc. etc.? They want to continue their conversations with the texts, and the stories, and the characters. They want the experiences to continue!

A child reading is just as intellectual an activity as an adult reading. It may not be the same intellectual activity as that adult reading or be able to draw on as much worldly experience or vocabulary, but it still requires imagination, association, vicarious experiencing, application of the known and expansion into the unknown, and it leaves echoes, memories, questions that keep the interaction going well after the final page is turned. Children CAN think!

Our articles in this issue of The Looking Glass all recognise the intellectual element in children's and young adult literature.

In Alice's Academy two of the most popular series of recent years are considered, particularly in terms of authorship and how the use and structuring of literary devices enriches and intrigues the reading experience. Sara Austin, in her "Performative Metafiction: Lemony Snicket, Daniel Handler and The End of A Series of Unfortunate Events", challenges adult assumptions that children require clear direction for narrative authority and the completion of storylines. The metafictive creation and tension of 'dual' authors and the unhappy-ever-after format of the series have certainly not limited its popularity.

In "Fantastic Literature at the Beginning of the Third Millennium: Terror, Religion, and the Hogwarts Syndrome", Danielle Gurevitch takes the Harry Potter series into the realm of mythic and spiritual traditions, as well looking at the modern influences of leadership models, education and literary genres on the growth of the young heroes of Hogwarts.

Spirituality is also a key element in our Emerging Voices article "Exploring the Intent and Ramifications of Spiritual Archetypes in Children's Fantasy Literature", where Stacey Freeman uses Carl Jung's theory of the 'Collective Unconscious' to examine the pervasiveness of these archetypes, and to show that, in these terms, children's literature operates just the same as adult literature.

Allison Layfield, in "Identity Construction and the Gaze in The Hunger Games" for The Tortoise's Tale, turns the critical gaze of Reality TV in on itself by considering how readers' 'viewing' of Katniss Everdeen's quandaries then requires them to examine the methods television uses in constructing/manipulating their own social identities.

In Jabberwocky, Mary Troxclair Adamson explores the Pied Piper story in "The Legend of the Pied Piper in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: Grimm, Browning, and Skurzynski". By tracking the development of the story over several centuries, she examines how authorial intentions, audience identities and intertextual connections have shaped the telling and retelling of the story.

Curiouser and Curiouser reviews two texts that also take an historical view of representation. Shih-Wen Chen's Representations of China in British Children's Fiction, 1851-1911 and Sara L. Schwebel's Child-sized History: Fictions of the past in U.S. classrooms both offer interpretations of how meaning is constructed for a reader through texts and, while those texts may be products of their times, so are we. Each of those elements in the equation, the reader and the text, need to be considered so that real and effective meaning can be made.

The issue is rounded out with an Abstracts call for the 2014 International Conference of the Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past, and our usual Call for Articles in The Caucus Race. Have you considered writing for The Looking Glass? We are keen to promote conversations and scholarship around all aspects of children's and young adult literature, from the academically analytical to the personal and expressive.

Have you given a presentation at a conference or seminar lately and thought about turning it into an article? Alice's Academy is fully peer-reviewed and authoritative.

Is there an aspect of your reading, your children's reading, your students' reading, that intrigues you and you would like to take a bit further? Perhaps Jabberwocky can offer you a forum to raise ideas.

Are you completing your studies or research and have a new way of looking at a topic? Emerging Voices gives you a forum for presentation in full academic terms.

Do you teach and have plans and thoughts around pedagogy or promoting literacy though literature? Then A Tortoise's Tale is your column.

The Looking Glass is proudly and determinedly an Open-Access journal. That means we exist to encourage open and free discussion and scholarship in this area and among our community. Feel free to join us!


David Beagley
General Editor - The Looking Glass

Volume 17, Issue 1, The Looking Glass, May/June 2013

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The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

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