Radical Children’s Literature: Future Visions and Aesthetic Transformations in Juvenile Fiction by Kimberley Reynolds

1976954Hardcover, 248 pages
Published May 15th 2007 by Palgrave Macmillan
Source: Library

Kimberley Reynold’s Radical Children’s Literature: Future Visions and Aesthetic Transformations in Juvenile Fiction asks some very difficult questions of those producing children’s literature and those studying it.

Reynolds brings some very fascinating theories and ideas in this volume of work. She says that “children’s literature…is both a breeding ground and an incubator for innovation” claiming that because children’s literature is so often discounted as “literature” and therefore flies under the radar, is has more room to develop. In other words, children’s literature offers its creators room to experiment with prose styles and narrative techniques, letting them wield their craft and learn new ways of entertaining. She also points out, and gives examples, that authors, no matter what genre they write, are deeply affected by the books they read when they are children. Therefore, it will be interesting to see what the current generation who is growing up reading books and novels in different forms produces as literature.

Reynolds quotes Rose’s argument that children’s literature (and the boundaries imposed upon it) “has less to do with children’s tastes and development than with adult needs, and specifically the desire for an image of childhood based on children’s relationship with language, that Rose claims, results in children’s literature being arrested as a literary form” (Reynolds 4). In other words, children’s lit is less about children than about adult desires to map childhood as a time of innocence. Reynolds also goes on to discuss Rose’s assertion that children’s literature “is coercively normalizing” (8). That is, children’s literature functions by ensuring that children do not just learn gender roles and expression but also their place in culture.

There is also a chapter on literary nonsense which is defined as “a complex form of writing with a distinguished intellectual pedigree and a long literary heritage” (46). Reynolds discusses how literary nonsense has been used by various literary figures, especially producers of children’s literature, to impart a message that is both accessible to the readers and to the adults who can discern the greater meaning hidden within it. To this effect, the use of the “ambiguous figure” which is defined as “the term used to refer to the well-known visual phenomenon in which one of lines contains two images; for example, a pair of cases and a couple kissing…” (49). Reynolds points out that literary nonsense is just one way authors make the world aware of things that are not able to expressed in language. She uses Fredric Jameson’s argument that change (in any form) can “only come about through an intellectual leap” (65) for which modes other than language are necessary, that is, as Reynolds so wonderfully phrases it, “though we cannot think thoughts for which we have no language, we live the experience and can symbolize it in other ways” (65).

Reynolds speaks rather scathingly about the realistic children’s literature currently being produced. She contends that “some areas of YA fiction, which like children’s literature generally is almost without exception produced by the adults for the young, have begun to serve a wider cultural project concerned with subduing the perceived teenage threat by re-presenting youth and youth culture not as disruptive and powerful but as impotent and puerile to readers who are anticipating and undergoing adolescence” (71). I am not quite sure I agree entirely with this assertion but I am quite willing to believe that it is certainly possible. Further investigation is warranted. The chapter on sexuality in YA literature is also fascinating as Reynolds points out that though traditionally teen sexuality was always portrayed in a negative light, there has been movement to portray sex and teens in a far more positive way. Recent additions to YA literature feature protagonists and other characters who enjoy a fulfilling sex life without any demonizing happening. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for slut-shaming and rape culture but that’s another book and another discussion.

I realize that this is less a review and more a discussion and I’m quite satisfied with that. This volume of work is invaluable as it focuses on aspects of children’s literature that need to be addressed. It also brings up several interesting points about children’s literature to mull over and perhaps investigate. I quite enjoyed reading this.