Over 25 years ago now (or a quarter of a century…which seems even a bit stranger), I started teaching Children’s Literature to Elementary Education majors at Southwest Missouri State University. At the time, Children’s Literature was becoming “real” literature–that is literature worth studying, poetry worth memorizing, stories worth reading.
At the time I started teaching, my more serious colleagues would smile and say “well…that’s nice…but it really isn’t the same as TS Eliot or Shakespeare or Byron.” If I tried talking about children’s literature in light of Cixous or Foucault, they would grimace and say “well…that really does not apply, now does it” and would turn to more serious topics than the cultural implications of Winnie the Pooh. Even my colleagues enamored with Science Fiction and Fantasy would grimace and note that the Wizard of Earthsea really wasn’t on par with The Left Hand of Darkness (both written by the same author) because, well, the Wizard was created for children after all.
Part of the problem was that Children’s Literature was relegated to the back of the academic line because it was defined as a requirement for Education majors rather than as an appropriate area of study for Literature majors–indeed, most of my students were Elementary Education majors who were far more interested in working with children rather than becoming serious scholars bound for graduate programs and the upper echelons of academia. The literature majors who enrolled in the class came in with the expectation that it would be an easy A because, after all, they were just reading “kids’ books.” The education majors came in, on the whole, as non-readers–indeed, most of them hated reading and tended to refer to the consumption of words as “language acquisition” rather than something one did for pleasure or studied as a serious pursuit. After seven years of fighting diminished views of children’s literature from my English colleagues and a diminished view of reading from the education majors, I gave up and became a county planner, albeit one who was and is far better versed in Quidditch than the eccentricities of transportation planning.
Even 25 years later, Children’s Literature is still fighting for a place in the literary canon.
The fact is Children’s Literature is serious stuff. Whether you are interested in new historicism or cultural dynamics or deconstruction, studying the multi-layered texts of J.K. Rowling is equally important as pealing apart the post-structural layers of Kathy Ackerman’s take on Don Quixote. The difference? One will be enjoyed far longer by far more folks than the other.
So…here is to children’s literature. Chase pirates. Play quidditch. Survive an unfortunate event. Slip down a rabbit hole.
Pick up a novel and enjoy…