1.How does the Langston Hughes biography project contribute to the themes and evolution of children’s literature? (Consider the Hollindale and Orenstein’s readings.) How do Hollindale and Orenstein’s readings influence your thoughts on the roles of fairy tales and other narratives in children’s literature? How does society’s evolving ideologies filter into what is considered acceptable narratives for children? How does your collaboration with the Illustration class and work on your biography project influence what you think are children’s first impressions of human behavior and relationships? How do Hollindale and Orenstein’s readings influence your thoughts on the roles of fairy tales and other narratives in children’s literature? How does society’s evolving ideologies filter into what is considered acceptable narratives for children? How does your collaboration with the Illustration class and work on your biography project influence what you think are children’s first impressions of human behavior and relationships? (1 page)2.Use Langston Hughes’ biography and turns it into a story for elementary students to read. (need at least three citations/ quotes)-you want to refine these biographies to make the writing as appealing and engaging as possible to readers. This means moving beyond writing them as encyclopedia/wikipedia entries. They can be stories, poems, and even the nonfiction narratives can focus on specific parts of the person’s life you find really interesting. For example, think about the first sentence of your biography. Does it say your writer/artist was born on this day and in this place? You don’t always have to start at the beginning of a person’s life. What was the most interesting fact/detail you learned about your artist/writer? That is often the best starting place to hook your readers. And then you can move forward with the chronology.(2 page)
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Ideology and the Children’s Book
Peter Hollindale
IDEOLOGY.4. A systematic scheme of ideas, usu. relating to politics or
society, or to the conduct of a class or group, and regarded as justifying actions,
esp. one that is held implicitly or adopted as a whole and maintained regardless
of the course of events.
Oxford English Dictionary
I will start with an assortment of disconnected statements.
It is a good thing for children to read fiction.
Children’s own tastes are important.
Some novels for children are better than others.
It is a good thing to help children to enjoy better books than they did before.
A good children’s book is not necessarily more difficult or less enjoyable
than a bad children’s book.
Children are individuals, and have different tastes.
Children of different ages tend to like different sorts of books.
Children of different ethnic and social backgrounds may differ in their tastes
and needs.
Some books written for children are liked by adults.
Some books written for adults are liked by children.
Adults and children may like (or dislike) the same book for different reasons.
Children are influenced by what they read.
Adults are influenced by what they read.
A novel written for children may be a good novel even if children in general
do not enjoy it.
A novel written for children may be a bad novel even if children in general
do enjoy it.
Every story is potentially influential for all its readers.
A novel may be influential in ways that its author did not anticipate or intend.
All novels embody a set of values, whether intentionally or not.
A book may be well written yet embody values that in a particular society
are widely deplored.
A book may be badly written yet embody values that in a particular society
are widely approved.
A book may be undesirable for children because of the values it embodies.
The same book may mean different things to different children.
It is sensible to pay attention to children’s judgement of books, whether or
not most adults share them.
It is sensible to pay attention to adults’ judgements of children’s books,
whether or not most children share them.
Some of these statements are clearly paired or linked, but they can be read
separately in isolation. All of them seem to me to be truisms. It would surprise
me if any serious commentator on children’s reading were to quarrel seriously
with any of them. He or she might wish to qualify them, to respond as to Dr
F.R. Leavis’s famous ‘This is so, isn’t it?’ with his permitted answer. ‘Yes,
but…’. Even so, I would expect a very wide consensus.
However, if this series of statements is brought to bear on the controversy in
recent years between so-called book people and so-called child people, it will
be found I think that most of them drift naturally towards either one side or the
other. In particular, there is likely to be a somewhat one-sided emphasis on
remarks about adult judgements and their importance (book people); about
children’s judgements and their importance (child people); about differences of
literary merit (book people) and about the influence on readers of a book’s
social and political values (child people).
If these two little exercises do indeed produce the results that I expect them
to, much of the division between literary and social priorities which has arisen
over the last fifteen years or so may come to seem exaggerated and sterile. We
have differences of emphasis disguised as differences of principle. (This may
have happened because the extremes of each alternative reflect a much larger
public controversy about the chief purpose of education. People slip without
realizing it from talking about children’s books to talking about educational
philosophy.) One result is particularly odd. By my own idiosyncratic but
convinced reckoning, the statements which are left over, which seem not to
bend towards the critical priorities of either side, are those which concern the
individuality of children, and differences of taste or need between children and
adults or between one child or group of children and another. It is a curious fact
that these, the most obvious truisms of all, are also the most contentious
statements. They are contentious because on the one hand they cast doubt on
the supremacy of adult literary judgement, and on the other they suggest that
we cannot generalize about children’s interests.
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It is very easy and tempting to simplify a debate until its nature becomes
conveniently binary, and matters which are not associated by any kind of
logical necessity, or even loosely connected, become coalesced in the same
ideological system. Something of this sort has happened in the schism between
child people and book people. In the evolution of debate, the child people have
become associated not only with a prime concern with the child reader rather
than the literary artefact but with the propagation through children’s books of a
‘progressive’ ideology expressed through social values. The book people, on
the other hand, have become linked with a broadly conservative and
‘reactionary’ ideological position. The result is a crude but damaging
conjunction of attitudes on each side, not as it necessarily is but as it is
perceived by the other. A concern for the literary quality of children’s books as
works of imagination has become linked in a caricatured manifesto with
indifference to the child reader and with tolerance or approval of obsolete, or
traditional, or ‘reactionary’ political values. A concern with the child reader has
become linked with indifference to high standards of literary achievement and
with populist ardour on behalf of the three political missions which are seen as
most urgent in contemporary society: anti-racism, anti-sexism and anti-classism.
The trouble with this packaging of attitudes is that it over-simplifies, trivializes
and restricts the boundaries of debate. Admittedly most writers on both sides of
the notional divide have at times unwisely offered hostages to fortune. One may
take for instance Fred Inglis’s remark:
Irrespective of what the child makes of an experience, the adult wants
to judge it for himself, and so doing means judging it for itself. This
judgement comes first, and it is at least logically separable from doing
the reckoning for children. Tom’s Midnight Garden and Puck of Pook’s
Hill are wonderful books, whether or not your child can make head or
tail of them. (Inglis 1981:7)
This carefully formulated and entirely sensible statement offers an important
distinction between equally valid but separate ways of reviewing literary
experience. Yet I have seen the last sentence removed from its context and
made to seem like a wanton dismissal of the child, a typical instance of the
book person’s negligent aesthetics.
If this is the general divide between book people and child people amongst
the critics, a matching divide is said to exist between writers. The book people
amongst authors—those who are said by hostile commentators to have
produced the prize-winning, dust-collecting, adult-praised, child-neglected
masterpieces of the illusory ‘golden age’—are those who write ‘to please
themselves’, or ‘for the child I once was’, or, in C.S. Lewis’s famous remark,
‘because a children’s story is the best art-form for something you have to say’
(Lewis 1980:208). The child people amongst authors, on the other hand, would
accept Robert Leeson’s analogy between the modern author and the oral
storyteller of days before the printed book:
On the other side of the chasm is Bob Dixon, who follows an assault on
ancient symbolic and metaphorical uses of the word ‘black’ by a paragraph
which seems ready on ideological grounds to consign Shakespeare and Dickens
to the incinerator:
is the public, the consumer, obliged to accept such a take-it-or-leave-it
attitude, being grateful if the artistic arrows shot in the air find their
target? What happened in the old story-telling days? If the audience did
not appreciate the genius of the storyteller, did that individual stalk off,
supperless, into the night? Actual experience of story-telling suggests
something different. You match story to audience, as far as you can.
(Leeson 1985:161)
This is quite true. Any individual is free to elevate political judgement above
literary judgement, and to be contemptuous of all literature which offends a
political criterion. The converse is also true. Any individual is free to like and
admire a great work of literature, even if its ideology is repellent. These are the
private freedoms of a democratic society, and I hope that any commentator
would defend both with equal enthusiasm. I make the second choice myself in
the case of D. H. Lawrence, whom I admire as a great writer and whose
Adult literature, as might be expected, is full of such figurative and
symbolic usages—when it isn’t openly racist. Shylock and Fagin,
Othello and Caliban all deserve a second look, for there’s no need for
anyone to accept racism in literature, not even if expressed in deathless
blank verse. (Dixon 1977:95)
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ideology I detest. Neither principle is much use when we confront the problem
of introducing children to great works of the past which do not entirely accord
with current moral priorities. But if anyone says, ‘We should not introduce
them; we should ban them,’ I begin to hear the boots of Nazis faintly treading,
no matter what colour their uniforms.
My particular concern in this article is to argue that, in the very period when
developments in literary theory have made us newly aware of the omnipresence
of ideology in all literature, and the impossibility of confining its occurrence to
visible surface features of a text, the study of ideology in children’s literature
has been increasingly restricted to such surface features by the polarities of
critical debate. A desire on the part of the child people for a particular set of
social outcomes has led to pressure for a literature to fit them, and a simplistic
view of the manner in which a book’s ideology is carried. In turn, this
inevitably leads to a situation where too much stress is placed on what children
read and too little on how they read it. At the very point in history when
education seemed ready to accept the reading of fiction as a complex, important,
but teachable skill, the extremities of critical opinion have devalued the element
of skill in favour of the mere external substance.
Diversity and individuality
Things can be made to sound very easy, as they do in Robert Leeson’s
reassuring comments:
This is a special literature. Its writers have special status in home and
school, free to influence without direct responsibility for upbringing
and care. This should not engender irresponsibility—on the contrary. It
is very much a matter of respect, on the one hand for the fears and
concerns of those who bring up and educate children, and on the other
for the creative freedom of those whose lives are spent writing for them.
I have generally found in discussion with parents or teachers, including
those critical of or hostile to my work, that these respects are mutual.
(Leeson 1985:169–70)
I should like to think that this was true and generally accepted. But it cannot, no
matter how true, be so simple. In a socially and culturally, politically and
racially divided country such as Britain (and most Western countries to some
extent or other) there is not a uniform pattern of ‘fears and concerns’ on the part
of ‘those who bring up and educate children’. The ‘fears and concerns’ of a
teacher in a preparatory school in Hampshire are likely to be substantially
different from those of a primary school teacher in Liverpool; those of an Irish
Catholic parent in Belfast will differ from those of an Asian parent in Bradford.
I wish to make only the obvious but neglected point that the same book, read by
four children in the care of these four adults, will not in practice be the same
book. It will be four different books. Each of these children needs and deserves
a literature, but the literature which meets their needs is unlikely to be a
homogeneous one.
It is of course important too for the writer’s creative freedom to be respected.
But in order to be respected it must be understood, and on that score also I do
not share Robert Leeson’s optimism. There is too much evidence of pressure on
writers (from all points of the politico-moral spectrum) to conform to a
predetermined ideology issuing in visible surface features of the text (Inglis
1981:267–70; Leeson 1985:122). Here, for example, is Nina Bawden, a writer
widely admired by critics of very different approaches.
Speaking to people who care, often deeply, for children, I have begun
to feel that the child I write for is mysteriously absent…. ‘Are you
concerned, when you write, to see that girls are not forced into
feminine role-playing?’ ‘What about the sexuality of children?’ ‘All
writers are middle class, at least by the time they have become
successful as writers, so what use are their books to working
class/deprived/emotionally or educationally backward children?’
‘Writers should write about modern [sic] problems, like drugs,
schoolgirl pregnancies. Aren’t the books you write rather escapist?’
‘What do you know about the problems of the child in the high-rise flat
since you have not lived in one?’ To take this last question. The reply,
that you project your imagination, is seldom taken as adequate; but
what other one is there? (Bawden 1975:63–4)
Leeson’s dictum, ‘You match story to audience, as far as you can’, is less
straightforward than it seems. A diversity of authors exercising their ‘creative
freedom’—as they must, if they are to write anything worthwhile at all—will
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only match story to audience ‘as far as they can’. If there were indeed a single,
uniform audience, a theoretical ‘child’ who stood for all children, there would
be few problems. Either a writer would be able to match her story to this ‘child’,
in which case her credentials as a children’s writer would be proved, or she
would not be able to, in which case she might have to settle for being a writer
of those other children’s books supposedly beloved of the book people, the
ones admired by literary adults but unread by actual children.
However, one point I hoped to make with my opening anthology of truisms is
that the most conspicuous truisms of all are ones which many adult
commentators are in practice loth to accept. When Leeson says ‘you match
story to audience’, he must surely be postulating many possible audiences,
whether individual (parent reading to child) or socially grouped (teacher or
visiting author reading to school class). It is clear that these audiences will
differ greatly from each other, whether in age, or sex, or race, or social class,
and that these different audiences will perceive the same story in different ways.
Otherwise there would be no need for Robert Leeson to do any ‘matching’. He
is not suggesting that a writer who adjusts and improvises in order to make his
story work with one group of children can then sit back, assured of its success
with every other group thereafter. And yet at their own self-caricaturing
extremes this is precisely the assumption on which both book people and child
people seem to act.
For the caricatured book person (a rara avis, perhaps) the distinguished
children’s book has a quality of verbal imagination which can be shown to exist
by adult interpretative analysis, and this is a transferable objective merit which
the ‘ideal’ child reader (though unable of course to verbalize his experience) is
capable of appreciating and enjoying. The good literary text has an external
existence which transcends the difference between reader and reader, even
between child and adult. Consequently there is an implicit definition of
children’s literature which has little necessarily to do with children: it is not the
title of a readership but of a genre, collateral perhaps with fable or fantasy.
Ideology will be admitted to have a place in it, but since the child audience and
hence the teaching function are subordinate to literary and aesthetic
considerations, it is a small part of the critic’s responsibility to evaluate it.
For the caricatured child person the book exists chiefly in terms of audience
response. The distinguished children’s book is one which the ‘kids’ will like
and which will aid their social growth. Historical periods will differ in the
forms of social growth they cherish, but it is an article of faith that the current
period will be wiser than its predecessors. The child audience, by some
ideological sleight of hand, will be virtually identical or at the very least highly
compatible with the preferred social objectives. In an age which desires to
propagate imperialist sentiments, children will be an army of incipient
colonizing pioneers. In an age which wishes to abolish differences between
sexes, races and classes, the readership is a composite ‘child’ which is willing
to be anti-sexist, anti-racist and anti-classist, and does not itself belong to any
sex, or race, or class other than those which the equalizing literature is seeking
to promote. The ‘kids’ are a Kid, who is sexless but female, colourless but
black, classless but proletarian. Children’s literature is implicitly defined as
being for this Kid: it is not the title of a genre but of a readership. Ideology is
all-important to it. Literary merit will be admitted to have a place, but it is a
minor part of the critic’s responsibility to evaluate it.
Both these caricatures exist. Both are extremely intolerant of anything which
lies outside their preferred agenda. The first kind is the one which says ‘I am
almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed
only by children is a bad children’s story’ (Lewis 1980:120). The second is the
kind which says, as someone did of Robert Westall’s brilliant anti-totalitarian
story Futuretrack 5, ‘The book will appeal greatly to teenage boys, which is the
best reason for not buying it.’ Both (though naturally for very different reasons)
will abominate Enid Blyton, and perhaps it is true to say that both understand
the effective working of ideology less well than she did, in practice if not in
theory.
My purpose here is emphatically not to argue for or against any single
ideological structure in children’s books (and certainly not to vindicate Miss
Blyton’s), but to contend that ideology is an inevitable, untameable and largely
uncontrollable factor in the transaction between books and children, and that it
is so because of the multiplicity and diversity of both ‘book’ and ‘child’ and of
the social world in which each of these seductive abstractions takes a plenitude
of individual forms. Our priority in the world of children’s books should not be
to promote ideology but to understand it, and find ways of helping others to
understand it, including the children themselves.
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Three levels of ideology
Ideology, then, is present in a children’s book in three main ways. The first and
most tractable is made up of the explicit social, political or moral beliefs of the
individual writer, and his wish to recommend them to children through the
story. An attractive example is this, offered by the late Henry Treece:
I feel that children will come to no harm if, in their stories, an ultimate
justice is shown to prevail, if, in spite of hard times, the characters
come through to receive what they deserve. This, after all, is a hope
which most of us share—that all may yet be well provided that we
press on with courage and faith. So in my stories I try to tell the
children that life may be difficult and unpredictable, and that even the …
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