Children’s Literature and Ideology

In Nodelman and Reimer’s “The Pleasures of Children’s Literature”, the reader is asked to look for at children’s literature and think about the society that is producing it.  What ideology is implicit in the story?  Sometimes this is easier to see in older texts which sideline female characters and focus on male characters.  Nodelman and Reimer take care to trouble the water and make readers think about how even strong characters, such as Anne in Anne of Green Gables or Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web, are constrained by ideas of what is appropriate for a female character.  We are not asked to not read these books but rather to ask questions about the values and portrayals in them and what they teach us about history and ourselves.  Different assumptions are highlighted by Nodelman and Reimer – societal assumptions – the importance of individual power over group welfare, assumptions about gender – boys are wild and unpredictable, strong and violent, girls are calm and predictable, weak but perhaps intelligent, assumptions about race – people of colour are less civilized, more savage and wild, people of different ethnicities are ‘essentialized’ or simplified to caricature.

Book selection and treatment of books with multi-ethnic or racial overtones requires care and thoughtfulness.  It is easy to get caught saying we are all the same, when we are not, or highlight the superficial differences not recognizing the ways in which these differences an impact a person’s experiences or highlight the differences through stereotyping.  So what are we to do with these issues in literature?  Look at the societies and language that shape the stories, compare stories, look for the differences within a single group and for multiple representations of a cultural or ethnic group.

Part of my goal in reading for this course has been to read outside my cultural box.  I have read many books in the western canon.  I grew up on “Wind in the Willows”, “Anne of Green Gables”,  “Charlotte’s Web” and “Little House in the Prairie”.  I do not need to read more stories which represent my enthicity and  culture, those stories are well-known to me.  I need to read stories from beyond my comfort zone, stories which trouble my waters and open my eyes.

I remember reading the story “The Rough-face Girl” to my grade three-four class a number of years ago.  One of the boys saw something in the book that made him say, “That’s just like my…”  I don’t remember what it reminded him of but I do remember that in past book discussions he had not made many comments.  There it was a obvious as sunlight, the book was familiar to him and he could connect to it.  I know I need those kind of books in my classroom.

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1 Comment

Filed under children's lit, curriculum, education, library, literacy

One response to “Children’s Literature and Ideology

  1. Debbie Pushor

    One of the things I have learned to do over the years, and I now challenge the teacher candidates I work with to do, is read “About the author,” the “Author’s Note,” and all of those important pieces that surround a story but which we sometimes do not take the time to read and consider. I think when we’re considering representation, we need to know who the author is who is writing the text. What credibility does the author have to write the story? Is s/he a member of that cultural group? How does the author know the people/the topic/the culture s/he is writing about? What research has been done? How credible and extensive is that research?

    Part of being a critical reader is knowing how the author is positioned and what they may help us think about in relation to the perspective they are foregrounding.

    Deborah Ellis, a white Canadian woman, has written “The Breadwinner” trilogy about Afghanistan. It is important to note that for each of the books she lived in that place and context for over a year, immersed in Afghan life. While she is writing as an outsider, she is writing as a person who has personal experience with the topic.

    With Aboriginal literature, given the diversity of First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples, the differences between American and Canadian Aboriginal peoples, and the colonization of Aboriginal peoples by white populations, the author’s stance, position, and perspectives will influence the story being told greatly and the societal representation being portrayed.

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