by Ellen Handler Spitz
University of Michigan Press, 2012
Cloth: 978-0-472-11754-3 | Paper: 978-0-472-03507-6
Library of Congress Classification PN56.5.C48S65 2011
Dewey Decimal Classification 809.933523


"A brilliant and daring book on how art reveals life, how it illuminates childhood beyond what the sciences of development can tell us."
---Jerome Bruner, University Professor, New York University

"Combining the surgical precision of a psychoanalytically informed critic with the oracular eloquence of a brilliant close reader, Ellen Handler Spitz reads our cultural fortunes about childhood and parenting through works of art.  Moving us (in both senses of the term) from the serene plenitude of Piero della Francesca's Madonna of Childbirth to the unsparing horror of Lessing's Fifth Child, she reveals just how powerfully art puts us in touch with the pulsing energies of real life."
---Maria Tatar, John L. Loeb Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures, Harvard University 

"Illuminating Childhood is a wonderfully well-written and researched interdisciplinary study of childhood in various media and mediums as well as through ethnicity, race, gender, cultures, and time."
---T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Distinguished Professor of French and Director of African American and Diaspora Studies, Vanderbilt University

While literature and the arts are rarely considered primary sources for knowledge about human motivation and behavior, people read novels, attend movies, watch television, and go to the theater not solely to be entertained but also to learn about one another and about themselves. Illuminating Childhood formalizes this quest for psychological knowledge in the domain of the arts.

Starting with the premise that a gifted writer, artist, or filmmaker has the ability to teach us as much in one scene as a theorist can in a treatise or a therapist in a session, the author shares her intimate experience of eight thematically linked works in film and literature from the second half of the twentieth century, touching on issues central to parent-child relations, including toxic intrafamilial secrets, the disjunction between love and understanding, and the lasting impact of deceased parents on their children. While the canon of literature about children and parent-child relations includes books that identify problems, propose solutions, and present statistical data, Illuminating Childhood offers a living out of experience via the arts, written for a general audience---parents, teachers, mental health professionals, those who engage with their students via the arts of literature and film, and others.

Ellen Handler Spitz holds the Honors College Professorship of Visual Arts at the University of Maryland. She is the author of a number of books on art, psychology, and imagery, including The Brightening Glance: Imagination and Childhood. Her abiding research interests are the cultural lives of young people; the relations between aesthetics and psychology; and the interconnections among literature, music, dance, and the visual arts.

Jacket photo: Courtesy of PhotoFest