Little Red Readings

Little Red Readings: Historical Materialist Perspectives on Children’s Literature

Edited by Angela E. Hubler
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 304
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    Little Red Readings
    Book Description:

    A significant body of scholarship examines the production of children's literature by women and minorities, as well as the representation of gender, race, and sexuality. But few scholars have previously analyzed class in children's literature. This definitive collection remedies that by defining and exemplifying historical materialist approaches to children's literature. The introduction ofLittle Red Readingslucidly discusses characteristics of historical materialism, the methodological approach to the study of literature and culture first outlined by Karl Marx, defining key concepts and analyzing factors that have marginalized this tradition, particularly in the United States.

    The thirteen essays here analyze a wide range of texts--from children's bibles toMary PoppinstoThe Hunger Games--using concepts in historical materialism from class struggle to the commodity. Essayists apply the work of Marxist theorists such as Ernst Bloch and Fredric Jameson to children's literature and film. Others examine the work of leftist writers in India, Germany, England, and the United States.

    The authors argue that historical materialist methodology is critical to the study of children's literature, as children often suffer most from inequality. Some of the critics in this collection reveal the ways that literature for children often functions to naturalize capitalist economic and social relations. Other critics champion literature that reveals to readers the construction of social reality and point to texts that enable an understanding of the role ordinary people might play in creating a more just future. The collection adds substantially to our understanding of the political and class character of children's literature worldwide, and contributes to the development of a radical history of children's literature.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-023-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. INTRODUCTION The Case for a Historical Materialist Criticism of Children’s Literature
    (pp. IX-2)

    When my son Jack was about three years old, I read Patricia McKissack’sMa Dear’s Apronsto him. This picture book focuses on two African American characters living in the 1900s, David Earle and his widowed mother who supports her family as a domestic worker, wearing a different, clean apron each day. On Monday, she does laundry, on Tuesday she irons—with David’s help—and on Wednesday, they cross “the railroad tracks to the other side of Avery where all the rich people live” to deliver baskets of clean clothes (n.p.). After her work is “carefully” inspected, David’s mother is...

  4. Class/ic Aggression in Children’s Literature
    (pp. 3-30)

    In her little-noticed essay “The Child and Its Enemies,” Emma Goldman examined the position of children in capitalist society. “Must not one suppose that parents should be united to children by the most tender and delicate chords?” she asks (135). Isn’t it obvious that parents love their children? This is no rhetorical question, as Goldman’s answer indicates: “One should suppose it: yet, sad as it may be, it is, nevertheless, true, that parents are the first to destroy the inner riches of their children” (135). How can this be? For Goldman, it is thenegativeattitude, where hurting children is...

  5. Shopping Like It’s 1899 Gilded Age Nostalgia and Commodity Fetishism in Alloy’s Gossip Girl
    (pp. 31-56)

    In an essay featured in theHuffington Poston December 21, 2010, Melissa terzis annotates a Christmas wish list her brother had found on a New York City train bound to Connecticut. This list, apparently composed by a twenty-something-year-old woman and addressed to her presumably wealthy boyfriend, contains the following items: noise-canceling earphones; a bicycle; Louis Vuitton city guides; “whatever the newest Chanel makeup is (as long as I don’t already have it)”; a Mulberry oversized Alexa bag (priced at approximately $1,200); a Cartier large Tank watch (priced at approximately $2,000); an a Cartier Love bracelet (priced at approximately $6,200)...

  6. Precious Medals The Newbery Medal, the YRCA, and the Gold Standard of Children’s Book Awards
    (pp. 57-74)

    In January 2004, Kate DiCamillo’sThe Tale of Despereauxwas awarded the Newbery Medal, the oldest and most prestigious prize in children’s literature. The selection ofThe Tale of Despereauxas the finest children’s book of 2004 was not surprising; DiCamillo’s book garnered almost universal critical approbation, was named a Junior Library Guild Selection, and would eventually be made into a major motion picture by Universal Pictures in 2008. What was surprising was that a little over two years laterThe Tale of Despereauxwas also selected as the winner of the Young Reader’s Choice Award (YRCA) Junior Division, the...

  7. “We Are All One” Money, Magic, and Mysticism in Mary Poppins
    (pp. 75-93)

    About the origins of the fairy tale, P. L. travers said: “[T]he tracks lead eastwards. The sun of wisdom, like the sun of light, has its rising there” (“Fairy-Tale as Teacher” 205).Mary Poppins, too, has its origins in the East. Visiting Ireland in 1925, travers first met Æ (George William Russell), editor of theIrish Statesman, who later exercised a profound influence on her intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual development.¹ “Listening to his reiterated chantings of theBhagavad Gitaand snatches from the old Celtic legends” (Travers, “Death of Æ” 244), she came to appreciate that these ancient stories were...

  8. Solidarity of Times Past Historicizing the Labor Movement in American Children’s Novels
    (pp. 94-115)

    In the mid-nineteenth century, a young New England textile worker fears that supporting her coworkers’ petition for shorter work days will cause her to lose her job. Garment workers in New York City, many of them teenage girls, walk away from their sewing machines in protest of poor working conditions and low wages; their concerns are validated months later when the Triangle fire kills 146 workers. Agricultural workers attempt to form a union that will bridge the racial divide in Mississippi during the Great Depression. Employees of a poultry processing plant in Georgia in the early 1960s unionize after being...

  9. “The Disorders of Its Own Identity” Poverty as Aesthetic Symbol in Eve Bunting’s Picture Books
    (pp. 116-132)

    “Children’s literature is an artistically mediated form of communication—a conversation—that a society has with its young. It is shaped by the concerns of the many stakeholders that are part of the ‘world that creates the text’ (Bakhtin,Dialogic imagination253)” (Johnston 303). Among these stakeholders would necessarily be those adults who are the owners of the publishing houses who control the means of production of children’s books. Also included would be a collection of petit bourgeois workers: writers, editors, illustrators, marketing directors, booksellers, and, in some cases, teachers and librarians who exercise day-to-day management over the production, distribution,...

  10. The Young Socialist A Magazine of Justice and Love (1901–1926)
    (pp. 133-150)

    Socialists have always looked for alternative ways of educating children to counter the repressive training of the state education system; specifically, they sought teaching methods that were relevant to the children of the working class and that reflected the aims and ideals of a future socialist society. They also considered the available reading material for their children and concluded that it promoted the class values and morals of the ruling class, which had as its aim the provision of a dutiful and diligent labor force. One response to this was the creation ofThe Young Socialist, established in 1901 as...

  11. Girls’ Literature by German Writers in Exile (1933–1945)
    (pp. 151-168)

    When the Nazi regime came to power in Germany in 1933, numerous authors left Germany and devoted significant time and effort to opposing fascism and militarism in exile. Their writing for children, young people, and adults contributed to an antifascist, and sometimes also pacifist, literature for children and young persons. This article focuses on exile girls’ literature (Mädchenliteratur des Exils) and its function for the reader. It asks whether this literature—by German writers exiled as a result of the Nazi regime—contributed to an antifascist and maybe even an international and pacifist upbringing.

    Girls’ literature has a long tradition...

  12. Different Tales and Different Lives Children’s Literature as Political Activism in Andhra Pradesh
    (pp. 169-190)

    In 1989, the United Nations approved the Convention on the Rights of the Child.¹ The convention defines childhood as a distinct status requiring moral and physical protection. According to the convention, children have a right not only to life, a name, and a nationality, but also to health care; adequate food, shelter, and clean water; and education, security, and freedom from exploitation. The convention states that children have the right to freedoms of expression, thought, conscience, religion, association, and access to mass media.² The UN’s definition of childhood draws heavily on modern liberal thought. As Sharon Stephens explains, the original...

  13. A Multicultural History of Children’s Films
    (pp. 191-212)

    In his bookMulticultural Literature for Children and Young Adults,Mingshui Cai comments on the difficulties involved in producing a “category of books” (xiii) called multicultural children’s literature. His comments are relevant to this essay, especially as at least one or more of the films discussed might not typically be defined as multicultural, let alone appropriate for children. Before proceeding, therefore, it is appropriate to spend a few moments on the question of definition. You can’t write a history of a topic that you can’t define. And when questions of children’s material culture and cultural hegemony are involved, the tendency...

  14. Bloodthirsty Little Brats; or, The Child’s Desire for Biblical Violence
    (pp. 213-227)

    Why are children drawn to the gory and bloodthirsty stories of the Bible? Given a choice in a decent children’s Bible, why do they ask for the story of Absalom catching his hair, Jael pegging Sisera’s head to the ground, Ehud losing his sword in Eglon’s gut, Korah sliding into the chasm, or David adding a third eye to Goliath’s forehead? Of course, in putting the questions this way I have implicitly taken up positions in ongoing debates. They are easy to identify: the question of whether children are devils, angels, or blank pages; the contrast between beneficial and harmful...

  15. Utopia and Anti-Utopia in Lois Lowry’s and Suzanne Collins’s Dystopian Fiction
    (pp. 228-244)

    The vast majority of dystopian and utopian fiction for young adults is shaped by the Cold War horror of a collective. Generations of children, in the United States at least, have read Madeleine L’Engle’sA Wrinkle in Time, in which the Murry children learn the value of individualism and freedom. In Camazotz, the novel’s dystopia, “all of the children on the street bounce their balls in strictly exact unison” (Hintz and Ostry 7). The protagonist learns that conformity does not lead to happiness, and she returns home to the United States, the novel’s real good place, where, despite the suffering...

  16. Ursula Le Guin’s Powers as Radical Fantasy
    (pp. 245-264)

    The term “Radical Fantasy” first appears in Fredric Jameson’s contribution to a 2002 issue ofHistorical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory, edited by China Miéville and Mark Bould under the title “Symposium: Marxism and Fantasy,” in which the rejection of fantasy as a genre marked by the instrumentalization of imagination and the exhaustion of utopian energies was successfully challenged from a variety of perspectives. Jameson’s article, “Radical Fantasy,” focuses on the category of radical or materialist fantasy, that is “a fantasy narrative apparatus capable of registering systemic change and of relating superstructural symptoms to infrastructural shifts and modifications” (280)....

    (pp. 265-268)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 269-276)