What’s a genre? A category of literature distinct from other types by its distinctive characteristics. Is children’s literature a genre? Nodelman and Reimer look for the characteristics that might be considered common to most children’s literature to answer this question. They find the following traits:
1) a basic pattern – home/away/home A character is unhappy with life at home, seeks another way and returns home with new wisdom. This pattern and variations on it are common within children’s literature.
2) concretizable description – the scenes and characters in children’s literature are describe through picture or words to form complete pictures in the readers’ mind of the scene and characters (I think all good literature does this but Nodelman and Perry indicate that this is done more deliberately in children’s lit).
3) Characters – children and child-like characters are the protagonists For years, I have used the age of the protagonist as a rough guide for the reading level of the story. This is not a surprising trait.
4) Opposites – children’s literature is in many ways didactic and stories are set up to highlight the opposing views and encourage the ‘better way’.
5) Style and structure – Children’s literature is action oriented, the plots tend to be straightforward. Language tends to be simplified for the reader, hopefully retaining some naturalness! Repetition of events or phrases or words is common.
6) Focalization – children’s literature is told from a child’s point of view.
7) Optimism – children’s literature tends to be utopian.
I found it interesting to consider the prevalence of the home/away/home scenario in literature. I hadn’t particularly thought about stories having this pattern. Yet with variation, it fits many novels and stories. My first thoughts were what a helpful thing to know as a writer and why didn’t anyone ever mention this to me before?
As I think about my plans for the coming school year – as a grade fourish teacher, I think that some of the ideas in “Pleasures of Children’s Literature” will be helpful to me. I want to awaken students to the pattern and choices made in good stories. I think knowledge of these patterns will improve their understanding of future stories, past stories and help them to become more interesting writers. The question as always is which parts do I teach and when and to whom, in what manner. Knowing what I want to do and making it real are two different things.
I want to be more like my son’s kindergarten teacher. She sets up the classroom, teaches them the routine and then lets them go to it. It is a wonder to behold – five year olds who just get to their work, no nagging, no instruction, just purposeful activity. Very cool.