TLG 17.2 Introduction

Frame of Reference

Introduction - Challenges

David Beagley

Despite all the noble efforts of generations of parents, authors, publishers and librarians to make children's literature a safe and predictable mechanism for enculturation into social, behavioural norms, those determined little readers make sure that it does not work like that.

There is no doubt that childhood and adolescence are periods of immense change, rapid and surprising discovery, and even foment. The young readers of children's and YA literature are finding the world, but it is not the world that those well-meaning parents, authors, publishers and librarians would like them to find: the world of tidy endings, resolved issues and safety in the security of the norms. No, it is the world that those adults are actually bequeathing to them: the world of danger, disappointment and division. It is a world of challenge and, so, the readers demand a realistic depiction of living those challenges.

This issue's articles focus on some of those challenges, and how they may be (or may not be) addressed in children's and YA texts. As editor Caroline Jones explains, in her introduction to Alice's Academy, our two pieces both highlight the stunning lack of diversity in children’s books published in the United States, and the entrenched ideologies of race and gender that still frame the established social norms for such texts. Karen Chandler’s “Playing to Girls in Virginia Hamilton’s Her Stories and Patricia McKissack’s Porch Lies: Frames of Selfhood, Community, and Audience” considers African American traditional stories from a feminist perspective to challenge the tradition of the passive female agent, while Mike Cadden's “‘But You Are Still a Monkey’: American Born Chinese and Racial Self-Acceptance” throws up a challenge to the accepted positive judgement of how Gene Luen Yang’s young adult graphic novel explores racial identity.

In Tortoise's Tale, Jeff Spanke explains how the often puzzling photomontages of Scott Mutter may offer an avenue for young writers to break out of traditional forms. "Photomontage and Surrational Imagery: One Teacher’s Encounter with Scott Mutter" also raises possibilities for discourse around pedagogical and practical journeys.

Isabelle Laskari takes us back into the seemingly now-familiar worlds of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games in Jabberwocky's "A comparison of war and violence in Harry Potter and The Hunger Games" but makes us question how the violence of both stories plays out as consequences in the lives of the key protagonists. What are they like, Harry and Katniss, afterwards? It is all well and good to be the hero, saving the day, but you still have to live with it later.

Our review in Curiouser and Curiouser brings two of Britain's big names in children's literature analysis to the fore - Peter Hunt and Dennis Butts. In a fascinating collection they ask, and try to answer, such questions as "How did Long John Silver lose his leg?". There are plenty of challenges to our established perceptions of many classic texts.

So, read and enjoy, and be challenged. It is what the best children's and YA literature does!


David Beagley
General Editor - The Looking Glass

Volume 17, Issue 2, The Looking Glass, March/April 2014

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The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

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