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Stories For Children, Histories of Childhood / Histoires d'enfant, histoires d'enfance. Tome II

 | 
Rosie Findlay
, 
Sébastien Salbayre

Desperately Seeking the Child in Children’s Books

Virginie Douglas

Résumé

Desperately Seeking the Child in Children’s Books
This paper aims to propose a theoretical approach to the field of children’s books, in an attempt to grasp the specificity of this literature and get close to a definition, starting from the adult/child relationship in children’s books.
My argument is that because the child in children’s books is a fragmented agency, children’s literature depends largely on an artificial separation of the child from the adult, a separation based on the fantasizing or mythologizing of childhood that in turn generates an ambiguity of the adult’s gaze upon the child. This nostalgic, desiring gaze, which is typical of the Victorian era and of the present time, can be at once violent and fruitfully creative. By blurring all frontiers, especially those between different age groups, the yearning of today’s adult for the child may even challenge the very existence of children’s literature.

Texte intégral

  • 1 Madonna, after a career as a singer and an actress, starring notably in Desperately Seeking Susan (...)
  • 2 Peter Hunt (ed.), Literature for Children: Contemporary Criticism, London, Routledge, 1992, p. 7.

1The title of my paper does not aim to highlight any resemblance between children’s books and a film starring someone who recently decided that becoming a children’s author would be a nice string to add to her bow.1 I only thought it sounded a good formula to introduce yet another discussion of what has recently become a growing concern of children’s literature critics: the status and position of the child in children’s literature, which are not self-evident and need to be “sought” (sometimes desperately!) if one wants to get close to a definition of children’s literature. When the commentary on children’s literature developed in the and 70s, it was largely descriptive and, as Peter Hunt has noted, “based upon a resolutely untheoretical stance ”2, that is to say mainly composed of histories and of rather practical, down-to-earth reviews assessing the supposed value of individual books. Now that it has matured as an academic discipline, it has become increasingly involved in theoretical issues, particularly problems of definition.

2What I propose here then is to provide an outline of the present state of children’s literature criticism on the position of the child in books for the young through the filter of my own tentative approach to the issue. My argument is that because the child in children’s books is a fragmented agency, children’s literature depends largely on an artificial separation of childhood from adulthood, a separation that in turn generates an ambiguity of the adult’s gaze upon the child. To what extent doesn’t this desiring gaze eventually challenge the specificity and independence of children’s literature?

THE CHILD IN CHILDREN’S BOOKS AS A FRAGMENTED AGENCY

  • 3 George MacDonald, A Dish of Oris, London, Sampson Low, Marston, 1895, p. 210.

3Children’s literature is based on an essential paradox—that of an author whose point of view and voice can be felt to be inadequate for the child reader insofar as the writer no longer shares the experience of being a child. Moreover, as has often been stressed, the genitive case in the phrase “children’s books” is misleading since children’s literature is managed almost entirely by adults from the writing to the buying and the commenting. As a result the child in children’s books can be construed as a fragmented agency: in addition to the actual child reader outside the book, the book is addressed to an implied reader in the book. This implied reader necessarily depends on what the author thinks being a child means. There is often a certain amount of uncertainty, vagueness or idealization in this representation; and sometimes the implied child audience can even encompass a readership of adults, as in the case of writers directing their texts to readers with a child’s frame of mind (whatever that is supposed to mean, again). George MacDonald famously said that he did “not write for children, but for the childlike, whether of five, or fifty, or seventy-five.”3

4And because any attempt at defining the child implies distinguishing him/her from or even opposing him/her to the adult, children’s books are, to a certain extent, based on the author’s assumptions about the relationships between adults and children. Children’s books have always been powerful ideological instruments, largely because of the status of the child as a learning being. A children’s book cannot escape a certain amount of didacticism, although the content of the lesson which is taught varies greatly, ranging from conformism to religious, political and social norm—sometimes to the point of indoctrination—to the education towards developing the child’s critical mind; it can even include the conveying of subversive or anarchical ideas, as in Roald Dahl’s novels, which repeatedly challenge the establishment through the wiping out of all characters embodying social power and oppression, either in the family unit (James and the Giant Peach, Matilda) or in the professional or social hierarchy (Danny the Champion of the World).

5This explains why, as Kim Reynolds demonstrates in her recent work, Modern Children’s Literature, children’s books are always particularly sensitive to the ideology of a period and of a society, and have always passed values on from one generation to the next:

  • 4 Kimberley Reynolds (ed.), Modern Children’s Literature: An Introduction, Basingstoke, Palgrave Mac (...)

Because it has interfaces with so many areas, children’s literature can be a valuable resource for revealing ideological assumptions across a wide spectrum, including areas such as pedagogy, racism, sexism, classism, religion, environmental issues, nationalism and more. [... C] hildren’s literature is a uniquely focused lens through which children and young people are asked to look at the images of themselves made for them by their societies.4

6Therefore the implied reader necessarily differs with place and evolves with time. If one may, admittedly, find some very broadly common features to children’s books to account for the existence of the label “children’s literature,” this common content is a shifting, elusive one. And indeed children’s literature seems to be the only literature defined by its addressees.

  • 5 Barbara Wall, The Narrator’s Voice: The Dilemma of Children’s Fiction, London, Macmillan, 1991, p. (...)
  • 6 Michel Tournier, Vendredi ou les limbes du Pacifique, Paris, Gallimard, 1967 (Friday, Doubleday); (...)

7The notion of a fragmented implied reader is thus complicated yet again by the splitting of the author into the actual writer outside the book and the implied author, i.e. the persona assumed by the author or the narrator who addresses the implied child. Because it is the implied author, by adopting a certain stance and tone, who establishes a connexion with the implied reader, not only the book as a whole but the narrative voice itself is pregnant with ideological assumptions about the adult/child relationship. Some case studies have made it possible for critics to get a better grasp of the specific ways in which an adult author writes for children. In The Narrator’s Voice: The Dilemma of Children’s Fiction (1991), a ground-breaking narratological study, Australian critic Barbara Wall focuses on the narrative voice in children’s books in an attempt to get closer to a possible “essence” of children’s books, remarking that “adults [...] speak differently in fiction when they are aware that they are addressing children”.5 This has been confirmed by Sandra Beckett’s works, which show how some French texts originally addressed to adults were recycled for children, most famously in the case of Michel Tournier turning Vendredi ou les limbes du Pacifique {Friday) into the children’s book Vendredi ou la vie sauvage.6

  • 7 Roald Dahl, Danny the Champion of the World, London, Cape, 1975; “The Champion of the World”, Kiss (...)
  • 8 Aidan Chambers, “The Reader in the Book”, in Peter Hunt, Children’s Literature: The Development of (...)

8One revealing text in English is Roald Dahl’s rewriting of his adult story “The Champion of the World”, from the collection Kiss Kiss (1959), into a children’s novel Danny the Champion of the World, published in 1975.7 In “The Reader in the Book”, an essay which, since its first publication in 1977, has become a landmark in children’s literature criticism, Aidan Chambers demonstrates that in the recast version of the story for children, Dahl achieves “a tone of voice which is clear, uncluttered, unobtrusive, not very demanding linguistically, and which sets up a sense of intimate yet adult-controlled, relationship between his second self and his implied child reader.” (1990: 96)8 Writing for children thus presumably means recreating in the author/reader relationship the kind of bond that is supposed to exist within society between an adult and a young person and, more particularly here in the case of Dahl’s story, within a family between a parent and his/her child.

9Obviously, if what then appeared as being characteristic of children’s books still applies to some more recent instances of children’s fiction, especially for younger readers, it is no longer a general feature, as shown for example by the development, starting around the time when Danny the Champion of the World was published, of a new trend of experimental texts addressed to young readers—including Aidan Chambers’s own innovative novels. Aidan Chambers’s Breaktime (1978) or Dance on my Grave (1982), or Alan Garner’s Red Shift (1973) certainly do not offer a cosy, protective adult-author/child-reader relationship: on the contrary they can be quite challenging, even disturbing, and rest on the belief in young readers’high competence in responding to unconventional narrative. the swing between separation and continuity, or the double potential of desire

10The attempt at bridging the essential gap between adulthood and childhood that lies at the heart of the endeavour of children’s literature is therefore inevitably jeopardised by the lack of consistency, and the splitting up into the fragmented agencies of adult and child. It seems that separation is a notion that is extensively at work in children’s literature, a notion which comes up both in the implied author’s stance towards the implied child in the writing, and in the commentary involving children’s books. Paradoxically the separation, the setting apart of children’s books so often deplored by critics in the field of children’s literature studies, can be said to have been a necessary stage in the development of this production as a literature in its own right.

  • 9 Philippe Ariès, L’Enfant et la vie familiale sous l’Ancien régime, Paris, Plon, 1960; revised edit (...)
  • 10 Perry Nodelman, “Preface: ‘There’s like no books about anything’”, Sebastien Chapleau (ed.), New V (...)

11Indeed the recognition of children’s books called for the prior acknowledgment of the specificity of the child. In 1960 Philippe Ariès published his first edition of L’enfant et la vie familiale sous l’Ancien régime (Centuries of Childhood), in which he outlined the development, especially from the eighteenth century onwards, of “an awareness of the particular nature of childhood, that particular nature which distinguishes the child from the adult, even the young adult.”9 Although it has appeared since then that Ariès’s argument that the idea of childhood did not exist in the Middle Ages has to be qualified, it cannot be denied that what Perry Nodelman has called “a space necessarily separate from the world of adults”10 was a prerequisite for children’s books to develop and thrive. Commentators generally agree that in England the beginnings of children’s literature date back to the middle of the eighteenth century, when John Newbery, a publisher and bookseller, settled in London and started creating books specifically for children, the first of which was A Little Pretty Pocket Book, published in 1744. As this idea of childhood as a privileged and specific state became generalized in the nineteenth century, the universe of the child grew more consistent, with not only books aimed at young readers but all sorts of products—toys, clothes, items of decoration for the nursery, etc.

  • 11 See Karín Lesnik-Oberstein, Children’s Literature: Criticism and the Fictional Child, Oxford, Clar (...)

12The argument I would like to put forward here is that the special interest in the child and the separation brought about by the recognition of the specificity of children and of products aimed at them have supported the representation of the child as embodying otherness. And this otherness has fostered nostalgia and desire in the adult/child relationship exemplified in children’s literature. In different ways, nostalgia or desire underlie a vast majority of texts aimed at the young from all periods, but most emphatically in the Golden Age of children’s literature (i.e. in the second part of the Victorian era and in the Edwardian Age), and nowadays. In my view, adult nostalgia and desire in children’s books are at once the shortcoming and the strength of children’s literature. They both point to a certain failure of children’s literature to carry out its task without mythologizing the child, and to the poetic driving-force that the constructed or fantasized adult/child relationship in children’s books represents. This ambivalence of desire, this double angle of separation and continuity account for the two major trends in children’s literature criticsm. In The Case of Peter Pan, or the Impossibility of Children’s Fiction, Jacqueline Rose, whose argument has been elaborated on by Karín Lesnik-Oberstein’s more recent work11, views the adult/child relationship in writing for children in terms of desire, fantasy and construction, which makes the very existence of children’s literature impossible. On the other hand, the newly-emerging “childist” criticism, pioneered by Peter Hunt some twenty years ago, propounds that the child need not be—and is not—a mere paper being devoid of all power in the world of children’s books. Fantasizing the child can therefore be construed in terms of achievement rather than failure.

  • 12 Pullman’s trilogy, which has already been adapted for the stage and was performed with huge succes (...)

13It is significant that the Golden Age of children’s literature and the present time are characterized both by the outstanding success of children’s books, including beyond the limits of a child readership, and by the ambiguity of the adult gaze upon childhood. Rather than a real commonality of adults’ and children’s interests, the success of books like the Alice books, The Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan, or the Harry Potter series or Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, with a dual audience of adults and children suggests that what appeals to the adult in texts aimed at children is precisely this separation, this irreconcilable dimension, this irretrievable otherness. It is also significant that all these best-sellers are examples of fantasy (whether high or domestic fantasy). The success of fantasy can be accounted for by the fact that the child finds dream and action unhindered by realistic constraints in it, while the secondary worlds provide the adult with the unknown, a distance, even a Utopian universe which reminds them of lost childhood. Admittedly, the angelic heroes of today’s fiction for children, from Philip Pullman’s Lyra and Will to J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, do not have the mawkishness that young Victorian heroes could have; they are streetwise, resourceful and knowledgeable, and contrary to Peter Pan they accept growing (in the third part of Pullman’s trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, Lyra becomes aware that she is going to reenact the original sin and does so in all conscience); and yet these child heroes hold a power superior to the adults’ and have fascinated readers to the point of becoming mythical.12

  • 13 Alexandra WOOD, «Constructions of Childhood in Art and Media: Sexualized Innocence”, AgorA: Online (...)

14The adult writer or reader of children’s books is probably largely driven by a nostalgic and voyeuristic move towards childhood. In an article entitled “Constructions of Childhood in Art and Media”13, Alexandra Wood establishes a parallel between the Victorians’ cult of childhood and our own. She convincingly argues that although it is innocence that is idolized in childhood, the adult’s gaze has nothing innocent about it. In spite of the representation of childhood as a space which deserves to be protected, the process of sexualizing innocence in art and literature goes hand in hand with a certain commodification of the child, which amounts to an exploitation. Worshipping angelic childhood has also meant turning it to profit: Sir John Millais’s painting Bubbles (1886), in which the little boy dreamily looking at the bubbles he is blowing seems to encapsulate the very essence of childhood, famously became an advertisement for Pears’ soap. Similarly, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886) popularized long ringlets, velvet knickerbockers and frilly collars for boys.

  • 14 Jackie Wullschläger, Inventing Wonderlands: The Lives and Fantasies of Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, (...)

15But in children’s books that have or will become classics, there exists a subtle equilibrium in which the desiring gleam in the adult’s gaze and the jarring note in his voice become creative. In Inventing Wonderlands, Jackie Wullschlâger describes Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, J. M. Barrie, Kenneth Grahame and A. A. Milne as “social misfits” whose relationships with real children were often far from satisfactory (Carroll’s interest in little girls would even be considered as criminal nowadays), but “who transformed their longing for childhood into a literary revolution.”14 Although these authors never turned the ambiguity of their desire for the child into more serious misbehaviour than taking nude photographs of little girls (in the case of Carroll), the recent period unfortunately provides an example of a children’s author whose ambiguous gaze upon children did not remain innocent in real life.

  • 15 For a fuller account of the Mayne case, see the articles of Catherine Bennett, “The author abused (...)

16William Mayne, the acclaimed British children’s novelist, author of The Choir School series (1955-63) and the Earthfasts trilogy (1966-1995-2000), who was awarded the prestigious Carnegie Medal for A Grass Rope (1958) and Guardian Children’s Fiction Award for Low Tide (1992), was convicted in 1994 for sexually assaulting, in the 1960s and 1970s, several young girls aged from six to sixteen who were his fans, and sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment.15 Far from suggesting that all children’s authors are potential rapists by bringing up this example I feel that somehow this case has been insufficiently commented on, perhaps because of a legitimate sense of propriety, or because it was thought to be irrelevant by critics, and also possibly because of a wish to protect Mayne’s works and—to a greater extent—the field of children’s literature (of which they are some of the finest examples) from detrimental criticism.

17It seems to me that the abuse of young readers by an author exemplifies, through an extreme, highly violent enacting of adult fantasies, the very paradox of children’s books: the adult attempt at reaching towards the child and communicating with him/her by offering a literary world of dream, play, make-believe and wish-fulfilment; and, on the other hand, the potentially brutal yearning for the young reader. Among the indignant comments prompted by this sad news item concerning William Mayne, it has been suggested that in some cases an exceptional kinship with and sensitivity to the specific universe of childhood might take a bad turn. The author/reader relationship is particularly tricky in children’s fiction: not only are the adult’s and the child’s desire at cross purposes; but besides, because there is a certain amount of responsibility in writing for children, it is a literature where you cannot entirely separate the adult’s attitude to the implied child from that to the actual child. The Mayne case has given rise to a great deal of pondering whether it was necessary or not to stop republishing the author’s books, providing access to them in libraries or buying them for one’s children. Had William Mayne written for adults, he would probably not have suffered from such contamination of his creation by his private life.

18It may not be pure chance if Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy provides a mise-en-abyme of the sometimes violently ambiguous behaviour of adults towards children. Significantly, in the books, childhood is seen in terms of continuity throughout the transition from innocence to experience, Blake’s “two contrary states of the human soul”: it is the evil adults in the story who introduce the notion of separation through the highly violent process of “intercision”. For supposedly religious purposes, they cut the child’s daemon (which both stands for the soul and acts as a guardian angel in animal form) away from him/her. On the pretence of bettering the children, those whom rumour has called “the Gobblers” (from the name of the very official institution which carries out these cruel experiments on children, the General Oblation Board) try to fulfil their desire to recapture the state of grace they have lost with childhood. It is significant that through this cutting off of an inalienable element from the individual, the adults express their desire to partake of childhood again by imposing an artificial separation on the young person. Not surprisingly the process of intercision is almost described like sexual assault: it is perceived as something indecent and painfully distressing by the young victims, who afterwards feel restless and disturbed and, when they survive, hide from society. The episode when Lyra is about to be “severed” but has a narrow escape is reminiscent of a rape scene:

  • 16 Northern Lights, 1995, London and New York, Scholastic, 1996, p. 279.

But they fell on her again, three big brutal men, and she was only a child, shocked and terrified; and they tore Pantalaimon [her daemon] away, and threw her into one side of the cage of mesh and carried him, struggling still, around to the other. There was a mesh barrier between them, but he was still part of her, they were still joined. For a second or so more, he was still her own dear soul.
Above the panting of the men, above her own sobs, above the wild howl of her daemon, Lyra heard a humming sound, and saw one man [...] operate a bank of switches. [...] The great pale silver blade was rising slowly.16

19No wonder Pullman has chosen to portray his child characters both as heroes and as the victims of adults’ violence. The contemporary period exemplifies the same attraction to and exploitation of mythologized childhood as the Victorian age. We have currently reached a paradoxical situation, in which artistic and literary products aimed at young people can at once display a Romanticized, even sentimentalized view of children, and become a space where the adult’s longing for the child as Other finds a more or less straightforward, aggressive expression. Such violence of desire can be found, for example, in Roald Dahl’s novels for children, in which the pervasive thematic violence expressed in the overturning of power figures hides a more oblique kind of textual violence, through which the narrator takes advantage of young readers by securing a collusion with them before bringing them round to his somewhat authoritative views. Even child characters are violently abused in Dahl’s novels if they do not conform to the narrator’s moral vision of the angelic child: in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for instance, all the children except Charlie are thought unfit to inherit the chocolate factory by Willy Wonka, the implied author’s intra-diegetic counterpart, because of the faults they embody; they are consequently subjected to ruthless physical punishment in the manner of traditional cautionary tales (like Heinrich Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter) and thrown out of the story. In a way, Dahl’s young reader is cheated, because the implied author knows how to manipulate his baser instincts and make him share in the expeditious ruthlessness. But this violence to the child reader through literary deftness also makes Dahl’s genius and the young addressee’s exultation. The ambiguity of adult desire, even if it is based on a construction of the child, can be fruitfully creative.

THE PRESENT BLURRING OF CATEGORIES

  • 17 Maria Nikolajeva, Children’s Literature Comes of Age: Toward a New Aesthetic, New York and London, (...)

20The current success of children’s books suggests that a turning point has been reached in the history of this literature. This return to a cult of youth very close to the Victorians’ nostalgic idolatry seems to point to a change in the perception of children. Does this have to do with certain elements of historical or social change which would in turn become reflected in the literature of the present period? Wistful yearning for childhood might indeed be a recurrent feature at the turn of the century. Or is it a purely literary phenomenon that can be ascribed to the normal evolution of genres, as described in Mikhail Bakhtin’s dialogic approach to literature, children’s literature having thus achieved a certain stage in its development and “coming of age,” as Maria Nikolajeva proposes in her Children’s Literature Comes of Age?17

  • 18 On this theme, see Régine SIROT, “Le brouillage des frontières d’âge”, in Isabelle Nières-Chevrel (...)

21What differs between the Victorians’ cult of the child and our own is that our vision has gradually led to an erasing of the distance between adulthood and childhood, which is characterized by the blurring of all frontiers, and especially the current trends of cross-reading and cross-writing. This uncertain border between age categories is exemplified both by the present tendency of adults in their twenties and even early thirties to linger on in childhood, and by children’s early entry into adolescence: this accounts for the emergence of new notions, like that of “new adults” or “young adults” and that of “tweens”—i.e. young people between childhood and adolescence (aged roughly from eight to twelve).18 It seems that the commonality of interest in children’s books is increasingly based on a reciprocal identification of different age groups with one another rather than on a break generating desire. Hence the difficulty to categorize and label the books written for young people nowadays. A large part of YA (young adult) fiction is either published with a layout and cover suitable both for children and adults, or released jointly in two different editions for the two age groups, like the Harry Potter series.

22The blurred readership and dual address, first brought into the foreground by Barbara Wall’s emphasis on the ambiguity of the narrator’s voice, is paralleled by blurred authorship, with the developing phenomenon of very young people writing for their peers. Admittedly teen authors have always existed: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein bears witness to this. But in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, there seem to have been an increasing number of adolescent writers who get their work in print, often achieving popular or critical acclaim, from 15- and 16-year-old British schoolgirls Katharine Hull and Pamela Whitlock with their Far- Distant Oxus (1937) to American Christopher Paolini, who began the first part of his fantasy trilogy, Eragon (2003), when he was 15 and published it when he was 19, or British Helen Oyeyemi, whose novel The learns Girl (2005) was written when she was 18. This is a new social and literary development that deserves to be studied more thoroughly elsewhere.

  • 19 Jerry Griswold, “The Disappearance of Children’s Literature”, in Sandra Beckett (ed.), Reflections (...)

23It is as if the initial state of separation that had been necessary for children’s books to develop and reach a degree of acceptance had eventually generated such wide recognition that separation has been replaced by the merging of children’s books into mainstream literature, If there is something positive in the will to go beyond the ghettoization of children’s literature and culture, it is legitimate to wonder whether this merging will not end by obliterating the very specificity of children’s books. Although Jerry Griswold’s article does not bring all the answers one might hope for, the question he raises in “The Disappearance of Children’s Literature ”19 seems relevant insofar as it addresses the shifting nature of childhood and of children’s literature. Is children’s literature doomed to disappearance?

Bibliographie

BIBLIOGRAPHY

PRIMARY SOURCES

BLAKE William, Songs of Innocence and Experience: Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul, 1794, in Johnson Mary Lynn and Grant John E. (ed.), Blake’s Poetry and Designs, New York, Norton, 1979.

BURNETT Frances Hodgson, Little Lord Fauntleroy, 1886, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1981.

CARROLL Lewis, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865; Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1871; Gardner Martin (ed.), The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition, New York, Norton, 2000.

CHAMBERS Aidan, Breaktime, London, Bodley Head, 1978.

CHAMBERS Aidan, Dance on my Grave, London, Bodley Head, 1982.

DAHL Roald, “The Champion of the World”, Kiss Kiss, New York, Knopf, 1959, pp. 206-33.

DAHL Roald, James and the Giant Peach, 1961, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1973.

DAHL Roald, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 1964, London, Penguin, 1995.

DAHL Roald, Danny the Champion of the World, 1975, London, Penguin, 2001.

DAHL Roald, Matilda, 1988, London, Penguin, 1989.

GARNER Alan, Red Shift, 1973, London, Collins, 1995.

GRAHAME Kenneth, The Wind in the Willows, 1908, Oxford, OUP, 1983.

HULL Katharine, Whitlock Pamela, The Far-Distant Oxus, London, Jonathan Cape, 1937.

MAYNE William, The Choir School series, London, Hamish Hamilton/OUP, 1955-1963.

MAYNE William, A Grass Rope, Oxford, OUP, 1957.

MAYNE William, Earthfasts, 1966, Cradlefasts, 1995, Candlefasts, 2000, London, Hodder, 1995-2000.

MAYNE William, Low Tide, 1992, London, Red Fox, 1993.

OYEYEMI Helen, The Icarus Girl: A Novel, London, Bloomsbury, 2005.

PAOLINI Christopher, Inheritance Trilogy (Eragon; Eldest;) New York, Knopf, 2003.

PULLMAN Philip, His Dark Materials (Northern Lights; The Subtle Knife; The Amber Spyglass), London, David Fickling/Scholastic, 1995-2000.

ROWLING J. K., Harry Potter series, London, Bloomsbury, 1997-.

SECONDARY SOURCES

Ariès Philippe, L’Enfant et la vie familiale sous l’Ancien Régime, Paris, Seuil, 1960, 1973; Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1973.

BECKETT Sandra (ed.), Reflections of Change: Children’s Literature Since 1945, Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, 1997.

BECKETT Sandra (ed.), Transcending Boundaries: Writing for a Dual Audience of Children and Adults, New York and London, Garland, 1999.

CHAPLEAU Sébastien, (ed.), New Voices in Children’s Literature Criticism, Lichfield, Pied Piper, 2004.

HUNT Peter, Children’s Literature: The Development of Criticism. London, Routledge, 1990.

HUNT Peter (ed.), Literature for Children: Contemporary Criticism, London, Routledge, 1992.

LESNIK-OBERSTEIN Karín, Children’s Literature: Criticism and the Fictional Child, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1994.

LESNIK-OBERSTEIN Karín, Children’s Literature: New Approaches, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

MACDONALD George, A Dish of Orts, London, Sampson Low, Marston, 1895.

NIKOLAJEVA Maria, Children’s Literature Comes of Age: Toward a New Aesthetic, New York and London, Garland, 1996.

REYNOLDS Kimberley (ed.), Modern Children’s Literature: An Introduction, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

ROSE Jacqueline, The Case of Peter Pan, or the Impossibility of Children’s Fiction, Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1984.

WALL Barbara. The Narrator’s Voice: The Dilemma of Children’s Fiction, Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1991.

WULLSCHLÄGER Jackie, Inventing Wonderland: The Lives and Fantasies of Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, J. M. Barrie, Kenneth Grahame and A. A. Milne, London, Methuen, 1995, new ed. 2001.

Notes

1 Madonna, after a career as a singer and an actress, starring notably in Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), published her first book for children, The English Roses, in September 2003. The book, an immediate best-seller, initiated a scries of five picture books illustrated by talented artists. It was brought out simultaneously in Britain by Penguin (Puffin) and in a hundred countries, having been translated in thirty-two languages before its launching.
A similar—though more modest—publishing phenomenon in France in which a show-business star begins writing children’s books is film director Luc Besson’s Arthur book series, which has been translated into twenty languages and whose film version is about to be released.

2 Peter Hunt (ed.), Literature for Children: Contemporary Criticism, London, Routledge, 1992, p. 7.

3 George MacDonald, A Dish of Oris, London, Sampson Low, Marston, 1895, p. 210.

4 Kimberley Reynolds (ed.), Modern Children’s Literature: An Introduction, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, p. 3.

5 Barbara Wall, The Narrator’s Voice: The Dilemma of Children’s Fiction, London, Macmillan, 1991, p. 2-3.

6 Michel Tournier, Vendredi ou les limbes du Pacifique, Paris, Gallimard, 1967 (Friday, Doubleday); Vendredi ou la vie sauvage, Paris, Gallimard (Folio Junior), 1971.

7 Roald Dahl, Danny the Champion of the World, London, Cape, 1975; “The Champion of the World”, Kiss Kiss, New York, Knopf, 1959, pp. 206-33.

8 Aidan Chambers, “The Reader in the Book”, in Peter Hunt, Children’s Literature: The Development of Criticism, London, Routledge, 1990, p. 91-114, first edition: Signal 23 (1977), pp. 64-87; also reprinted in Aidan Chambers, Booktalk; Occasional Writing on Literature and Children, London, Bodley Head, 1985, pp. 34-58.

9 Philippe Ariès, L’Enfant et la vie familiale sous l’Ancien régime, Paris, Plon, 1960; revised edition: Paris, Seuil, 1973. Centuries of Childhood, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1973.

10 Perry Nodelman, “Preface: ‘There’s like no books about anything’”, Sebastien Chapleau (ed.), New Voices in Children’s Literature Criticism, Lichfield, Pied Piper, 2004, p. 3. The term “separation” is also used repeatedly in Deborah Thacker’s “Introduction”, in Deborah Cogan Thacker and Jean Webb, Introducing Children’s Literature from Romanticism to Postmodernism, London and New York, Routledge, 2002, pp. 1-10.

11 See Karín Lesnik-Oberstein, Children’s Literature: Criticism and the Fictional Child, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1994, and Children’s Literature: New Approaches, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

12 Pullman’s trilogy, which has already been adapted for the stage and was performed with huge success at the National Theatre of London, will also have its film version, like the Harry Potter series. The first film, directed by Anand Tucker and produced by New Line Cinema (the producers of The Lord of the Rings) is to be released in 2007.

13 Alexandra WOOD, «Constructions of Childhood in Art and Media: Sexualized Innocence”, AgorA: Online Graduate Humanities Journal, 2.2 (Sept. 05), <http://www.humanities.ualberta.ca/agora/Articles.cfm?ArticleNo=157>

14 Jackie Wullschläger, Inventing Wonderlands: The Lives and Fantasies of Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, J.M. Barrie, Kenneth Grahame and A.A. Milne, London, Methuen, 1995 (new ed. 2001), p. 5; 3.

15 For a fuller account of the Mayne case, see the articles of Catherine Bennett, “The author abused children: should we read his books?”, in The Guardian, May 27, 2004, http://www.guardian.co.uk/child/story/0,7369,1225571,00.html>, and Andrew Norfolk, “Children’s writer ‘in sex attacks on his fans’”, The Times, March 23, 2004, <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0„2-1047882,00.html>

16 Northern Lights, 1995, London and New York, Scholastic, 1996, p. 279.

17 Maria Nikolajeva, Children’s Literature Comes of Age: Toward a New Aesthetic, New York and London, Garland, 1996.

18 On this theme, see Régine SIROT, “Le brouillage des frontières d’âge”, in Isabelle Nières-Chevrel (dir.), Littérature de jeunesse, incertaines frontières, proceedings of the Cerisy conference, Paris, Gallimard Jeunesse, 2005; and, for a definition of “tweens” and a study of tween culture: Birgitte Tufte, “Tweens between Media and Consumption, with Focus on their Use of the Internet”, in L’Édition pour la jeunesse entre héritage et culture de masse, proceedings of the 2004 Paris international symposium, CD-ROM, Eaubonne, Institut International Charles-Perrault, 2005.

19 Jerry Griswold, “The Disappearance of Children’s Literature”, in Sandra Beckett (ed.), Reflections of Change: Children’s Literature Since 1945, Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, 1997, pp. 35-41.

Auteur

Université de Rouen
Professeur agrégé, teaches in the Department of English at the University of Rouen. Her PhD dissertation (2001) analysed the place of subversion in contemporary British fantasy for children (La Subversion dans la fiction non-réaliste contemporaine pour la jeunesse au Royaume-Uni, 1945-1995). She is the editor of a volume of essays, Perspectives contemporaines du roman pour la jeunesse (L’Harmattan, 2003) and the author of several articles in the field of children’s literature and of some entries in the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature (Oxford University Press).

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2007

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