Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Happy Birthday

It's the birthday today of both Charles Dickens and Laura Ingalls Wilder,* two writers who are so essential to my idea of literature that it seems oddly fitting that they share a birthday.

There's lots of controversy about Wilder, and I won't rehearse it here. Yes, the books celebrate a kind of independence that her family didn't really share--that was, in fact, never really true. And yes, they represent an attitude towards Native Americans that is--and was--reprehensible. For me, though, the books were about being the brown-haired one, messy, irresponsible one and still being the heroine (I didn't know it, but maybe Laura was channeling Maggie Tulliver). And, as I'm pretty sure I've said before, they were about food. I have a hard time reading them now, I confess. But they were such a part of my childhood reading--they taught me so much about narrative and development (and food) that it's hard for me to abandon them entirely.

Dickens, too, is about food and scarcity and all kinds of appetites. I didn't read him at all until high school, though I'm pretty sure I was familiar with A Christmas Carol before then. And he wasn't really a children's book writer--but his ideas about children are so formative, still, that he can't be ignored. Dickens predates Freud in his emphasis on the significance of childhood trauma in adult psychology--and while Dickens can't be credited as the first to recognize the connection (we can look to Wordsworth's "the child is father of the man" for another neat literary articulation of it), he certainly participates in developing the ideology of childhood that we still inhabit today.

*It's also the birthday of Sir Thomas More and Ashton Kutcher, but I have nothing to say about them. Isn't astrology wonderful?

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