Ever since children have learned to read, there has been children’s literature. Children’s Literature charts the makings of the Western literary imagination from Aesop’s fables to Mother Goose, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to Peter Pan, from Where the Wild Things Are to Harry Potter.
The only single-volume work to capture the rich and diverse history of children’s literature in its full panorama, this extraordinary book reveals why J. R. R. Tolkien, Dr. Seuss, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Beatrix Potter, and many others, despite their divergent styles and subject matter, have all resonated with generations of readers. Children’s Literature is an exhilarating quest across centuries, continents, and genres to discover how, and why, we first fall in love with the written word.
“Lerer has accomplished something magical. Unlike the many handbooks to children’s literature that synopsize, evaluate, or otherwise guide adults in the selection of materials for children, this work presents a true critical history of the genre. . . . Scholarly, erudite, and all but exhaustive, it is also entertaining and accessible. Lerer takes his subject seriously without making it dull.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“Lerer’s history reminds us of the wealth of literature written during the past 2,600 years. . . . With his vast and multidimensional knowledge of literature, he underscores the vital role it plays in forming a child’s imagination. We are made, he suggests, by the books we read.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“There are dazzling chapters on John Locke and Empire, and nonsense, and Darwin, but Lerer’s most interesting chapter focuses on girls’ fiction. . . . A brilliant series of readings.”—Diane Purkiss, Times Literary Supplement
Between 1933 and 1945, National Socialists enacted a focused effort to propagandize children’s literature by distorting existing German values and traditions with the aim of creating a homogenous “folk community.” A vast censorship committee in Berlin oversaw the publication, revision, and distribution of books and textbooks for young readers, exercising its control over library and bookstore content as well as over new manuscripts, so as to redirect the cultural consumption of the nation’s children. In particular, the Nazis emphasized Nordic myths and legends with a focus on the fighting spirit of the saga heroes, their community loyalty, and a fierce spirit of revenge—elements that were then applied to the concepts of loyalty to and sacrifice for the Führer and the fatherland. They also tolerated select popular series, even though these were meant to be replaced by modern Hitler Youth camping stories.
In this important book, first published in 1984 and now back in print, Christa Kamenetsky demonstrates how Nazis used children’s literature to selectively shape a “Nordic Germanic” worldview that was intended to strengthen the German folk community, the Führer, and the fatherland by imposing a racial perspective on mankind. Their efforts corroded the last remnants of the Weimar Republic’s liberal education, while promoting an enthusiastic following for Hitler.
Children’s literature has spent decades on the psychiatrist’s couch, submitting to psychoanalysis by scores of scholars and popular writers alike. Freud in Oz turns the tables, suggesting that psychoanalysts owe a significant and largely unacknowledged debt to books ostensibly written for children. In fact, Kenneth B. Kidd argues, children’s literature and psychoanalysis have influenced and interacted with each other since Freud published his first case studies.
In Freud in Oz, Kidd shows how psychoanalysis developed in part through its engagement with children’s literature, which it used to articulate and dramatize its themes and methods, turning first to folklore and fairy tales, then to materials from psychoanalysis of children, and thence to children’s literary texts, especially such classic fantasies as Peter Pan and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. He traces how children’s literature, and critical response to it, aided the popularization of psychoanalytic theory. With increasing acceptance of psychoanalysis came two new genres of children’s literature—known today as picture books and young adult novels—that were frequently fashioned as psychological in their forms and functions.
Freud in Oz offers a history of reigning theories in the study of children’s literature and psychoanalysis, providing fresh insights on a diversity of topics, including the view that Maurice Sendak and Bruno Bettelheim can be thought of as rivals, that Sendak’s makeover of monstrosity helped lead to the likes of the Muppets, and that “Poohology” is its own kind of literary criticism—serving up Winnie the Pooh as the poster bear for theorists of widely varying stripes.
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