TLG 17.3 Introduction

Frame of Reference

Introduction - Farewell to a friend

David Beagley

It is so hard to say good-bye, especially to someone that you have come to assume would always be there.

Maurice Saxby was someone like that, a delightful pixie of a man with a fervent love for children's literature and a fierce determination that those child readers would get the quality literature to which they are entitled. As he said in 2012, "If kids are reading, they are given access to language, and not just language skills, but the thoughts behind what is being expressed in that language. They are meeting other worlds, they are meeting other people, they are looking for a home for themselves, and having great fun while they are doing it!"

Henry Maurice Saxby was born in 1924, served in the Australian Army 1943-46, immediately began teacher trianing upon his discharge and became a teacher with the New South Wales Department of Education (1950-1956), a lecturer with the New South Wales State Teachers' Colleges (1957-1972) and then Professor and Head of the English Department at Kuring-gai College of Advanced Education in Sydney (1973-1985). At Kuring-Gai he established specialist under- and post-graduate courses in children’s literature, some of the first in Australia. Those of who were privileged to have been taught by Maurice, as well as the many who heard him speak at conferences and seminars over the years, will always remember his inspiring approach as well as his impish sense of humour. He was the first national president of the Children's Book Council of Australia and was their first life member in 1991, and was twice a juror for IBBY's Hans Christian Andersen Medal. He was recognized, over time, with an Order of Australia award (1995), the Dromkeen Medal (1983), the Lady Cutler Award (1989), the Nan Chauncy Award (2002), the Pixie O'Harris Award (2013) as well as adding his name to the Maurice Saxby Award and the Maurice Saxby Lecture (CBCA).

And he wrote! Books in the Life of a Child (1997) and Give Them Wings: the experience of children's literature (1991) are still among the most erudite and passionate texts about pleasures and the importance of children's reading experiences, and his three histories - Offered to Children : A History of Australian Children's Literature 1841-1941, Images of Australia : A History of Australian Children's Literature 1941-1970 and The Proof of the Puddin' : Australian children's literature 1970-1990 are seminal works. The Austlit database lists 298 works by him, and much more about his authorship and scholarship.

But most of all, Maurice was simply a lovely person! He could bubble with excitement over a new book, or author, or idea and make everyone around just as enthusiastic. He listened to people, young, old, readers, writers, fans, trade, anyone who wanted to talk to him - all of them got his full attention, his courtesy, and came away not only with ideas to take further, but also with a memory of meeting a special person.

And now he is gone, passing away in November 2014, just short of his 90th birthday. He will be sadly missed and never replaced.

However, Maurice would insist that good scholarship and enthusiastic support of children's literature must continue! So, let us look at this issue's offerings, and he would certainly be pleased with our lead article, in Alice's Academy: "Silencing and Subjugation Masquerading as Love and Understanding: Sonya Hartnett's The Ghost's Child" by Maureen Clark.

Astrid Lindgren Award winner Sonya Hartnett's work is always many-layered, intriguing and thought-provoking. Clark considers this fictional memoir of families and relationships in a post-colonial context, reminding us that that how we see ourselves is shaped by the historical and cultural discourses which define us. In the case of a memoir, how reliable can a single voice be when it speaks for others who are denied their own voice?

In Emerging Voices, we have two articles that also focus on representation. Thomas Byrne's "Examining the Works of Neil Gaiman: Children Don’t Need Their Literature Dumbo’d Down" compares the bland, Disneyfied approach that characterizes so much of the literature offered to children with the darker and more challenging themes in Neil Gaiman's work, particularly Coraline. The former reinforces a paternalistic view that children are lesser-than-adults, while Gaiman allows, even demands, that they think critically.

Tammy Mielke picks up the theme of post-colonial voices and agency in "Using Ambiguity to Resist Stereotype in the 1930s: Erick Berry’s Penny-Whistle and One String Fiddle". Berry's representation of the voices of Appalachian and African American children through their music in these two texts was certainly unusual in the 1930s. Mielke suggests that Berry used her position as an 'insider' to subvert the dominant ideology of racism and stereotypes of the 1930s through ambiguity in those child voices and representation.

Erika Cleveland and E. Sybil Durand argue, in their "Critical Representations of Sexual Assault in Young Adult Literature" in The Tortoise's Tale, that educators must carefully examine the implicit and explicit messages in YAL that depicts sexual assault. While stories around these themes are often used in YA classes to foster awareness and promote discussion, they may also reinforce the myths and assumptions embedded in public misconceptions.

Jabberwocky features an interview by Ben Screech with controversial UK author Kevin Brooks, including discussion of the media outrage at his 2013 Carnegie winning novel The Bunker Diary, while Curiouser and Curiouser reviews Kerry Mallan's Secrets, Lies and Children's Fiction, an exploration of the nature of truth and fiction in children's stories and their lives.

Representation, voice and challenge seem to be the themes through these commentaries - well, that is what I think! Read them and decide if you agree.

David Beagley
General Editor - The Looking Glass

Volume 17, Issue 3, The Looking Glass, November 2014

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