A few weeks ago, we were talking about the complexities and politics involved in the construction of the cannon and the concepts of classics and golden ages so I thought I'd share this with you because it is on the very topic!!! Please feel free to leave comments and other members of the group can respond, as will I. No bad language and aggressiveness please. I know this is a sensitive issue but keep calm and post!
From Chapter 2 – ‘Of Classics and Golden Ages’ in Haviland, Virginia., Children and Literature: Views and Reviews. London: Bodley Head, 1974.
A Second Golden Age?
In a Time of Flood?
Children’s Book Specialist for the Library of Congress, teacher of children’s literature, reviewer of children’s books for the Horn Book Magazine, Virginia Haviland is also author and editor of books, bibliographies, and articles on children’s literature. Among her books are a series of national folk-tale collections from France, Germany, Japan, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, and Russia.1 This article is based on a talk delivered for the Seventy-fifth Anniversary of The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh at its Fall Festival of Children’s Books, October 1970.
Elizabeth Nesbitt has brilliantly defined the essential, durable qualities that distinguished the writers of genius who added so much to children’s literature at the turn of the century. . . . It is now our concern to consider whether they have been matched in recent decades.
In 1965, concluding his evaluation of children’s literature in his book, Written for Children: An outline of English children’s literature (Lothrop), John Rowe Townsend, English critic-author, asserted that “The second golden age is now” (the first, as he stated, having been the half century before 1914). On publication, Mr. Townsend’s assertion was immediately challenged. Five years later, I was glad to be able to ask him whether he still finds this to be a golden age.2 He declared that he does and added that there are a greater number of good writers than ever before. “We have pulled up a lot in the last few years,” he said. Similarly, for us to take sides in the controversy—to decide whether or not we have been enjoying a renaissance of greatness in a second golden age—we must look at achievements and trends during the decades since World War I, considering American, British, and translated works together.
It is natural, I think, to speculate on the reasons why certain kinds of books are published during any period and on the specific incentives operating during the period under consideration. We can see that in recent decades new external forces have strongly affected the quantity of children’s books; we cannot say their quality, for creative work can go on without such incentives.
One external force was the allotment of federal moneys to schools and libraries which increased the already great institutional support of American
1. See, for example, Favorite Fairy Tales Told in France, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin and Favorite Fairy Tales Told in Germany, illustrated by Susanne Suba (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1959. London, The Bodley Head Ltd., 1967 and 1969).
2. In his introduction to A Sense of Story, Mr. Townsend refers (p. 10—11) to an English essayist on Philippa Pearce (Use of English, Spring 1970) who declared that “ours is the golden age of children’s literature” and adds, “a view with which I agree, although the figure of speech
(beginning of page89) children’s book publishing. Also, new kinds of book promotion—Book and Library Weeks and festivals, prizes in increasing numbers and variety, and institutes and seminars for the study of children’s literature—have publicized children’s books and focused critical attention upon them. And internationalism has become a greater influence, nourished by new systems of communication and by the increased trend toward copublishing.
Social forces have, of course, affected the content and style of books. But neither commercial nor social pressures are responsible for most of our enduring books, the kind to which we feel future decades may look back to as belonging to a golden age. If we are to call these years “golden” for children’s literature, it has to be because we find distinction in the creative works that came into existence in spite of pressures. We can, indeed, look to a solid core of luminaries, however much we seem surrounded by mass-produced mediocrity. (The first golden age had its mediocrities, too.)
In addition to literary facility and imagination, various forces have always operated to generate good writing for children. A basic one is the consuming urge to write in authors who have something they must say, and among such writers are those who turn from adult to children’s literature when what they have to say is best said in children’s literature. C. S. Lewis, who wrote for both adults and children, said in his essay “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” that he wrote for children because he found this the best art-form for saying what he wanted to say.
In her survey, Elizabeth Nesbitt included a number of all-around geniuses who wrote both for adults and children: Kipling, Macdonald, and Hawthorne, among others. To such a list of versatile, creatively independent authors, we can add more recent writers of fiction who have not limited their attention to an audience either of adults or of children. Among them have been Walter Edmonds, Rachel Field, and Esther Forbes; John Masefield and Carl Sandburg; Elizabeth Coatsworth, Elizabeth Enright, E. B. White, and Rumer Godden; Eilis Dillon and Paula Fox—all genuine writers, unaffected by pressures from without.
Another creative force which produces convincing and honest children’s books is found in an identification with childhood, or, at least, in an instinctive understanding of children. The obvious identification with childhood that was so notable in the success of Hans Christian Andersen and Beatrix Potter is to be found, although with vastly different expression, in the writing of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Meindert Dejong, William Mayne, and Maurice Sendak.
And the critical attention given to American books in other countries could be a useful guide in searching for excellence. Island of the Blue Dolphins (Houghton) and The Wheel on the School (Harper) have won German prizes, as have our picture books, The Happy Lion (McGraw) and Swimmy (Pantheon). The Story of Doctor Dolittle (Lippincott) has won an Italian prize. And best of all, Meindert DeJong and Maurice Sendak3 have
3. And in 1972 Scott O’Dell
90 won Hans Christian Andersen medals, while Elizabeth Coatsworth and E. B. White were strong candidates in the years of their nomination for the same honor.
A special supplement to a new educational publication from Cambridge, England, entitled Where, has a series of pieces about leading authors by well-known critics including Margery Fisher and Edward Blishen. These sketches of modern giants direct attention first to E. B. White, Wanda Gag, and Meindert Dejong, along with Philippa Pearce and Leon Garfield, and then, in shorter pieces, to Laura Ingalls Wilder and Elizabeth Enright, along with two Frenchmen—René Guillot and Paul Berna—and seven more English writers: Alan Garner, C. S. Lewis, William Mayne, Mary Norton, K. M. Peyton, Rosemary Sutcliff, and John Rowe Townsend. (To which I would have felt compelled to add the names of Lucy Boston, P. L. Travers, and Henry Treece.) Representing a variety of genres, these authors form an immediately arresting combination.
American writers lag far behind the British in the writing of historical fiction, but Johnny Tremain (Houghton) by Esther Forbes has indeed traveled well, and we can claim Erik Haugaard (although he writes from his home in Denmark). For us at least, it seems certain that Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Houghton), Irene Hunt’s Across Five Aprils (Follett), and Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins (Houghton) will live. But consider the modern British contribution to historical fiction: Rosemary Sutcliff deals with early Britain; Henry Treece, with prehistory and the Vikings; Hester Burton and Ronald Welch, with later centuries; and Leon Garfield, Cynthia Harnett, and K. M. Peyton, among many, write distinctive period stories.
However, most of all, it has been fantasies and editions of folklore that have survived through generations of reading by the young. In a recent richness of fantasy, England has by no means fallen behind the accomplishments of the first golden age that opened with Carroll, Kingsley, Lear, and Macdonald, and continued with Kipling, Grahame, and E. Nesbit. Perhaps because of their long heritage and love of folklore and poetry it is natural that British writers should have developed a unique felicity in this genre. Whether in the style of a quest, the creation of a whole new world, the use of folk-tale motifs, or in fantasy about animals or space, English writers have shown genius. Recent English writers of fantasy include Lucy Boston and Rumer Godden, Philippa Pearce with her masterpiece Tom’s Midnight Garden (Lippincott), Alan Garner, and Pauline Clarke with her The Return of the Twelves (Coward), following upon De la Mare, P. L. Travers, Mary Norton, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien. He who is acquainted with anything of children’s literature today knows The Hobbit (Houghton), The Borrowers (Harcourt), Mary Poppins (Harcourt), and the Narnia books. Here is where we can shout “golden age.”
And we can include American writers, too, with E. B. White at the top of the list; Charlotte’s Web (Harper) is as moving a fantasy as there is. Mr. White has again successfully combined naturalistic elements of animal life 91 with make-believe in his new The Trumpet of the Swan (Harper). Other long-loved animal fantasies must include Robert Lawson’s Rabbit Hill (Viking) and Hugh Lofting’s stories about Doctor Dolittle. We salute William Pène du Bois for highly original fantasies wholly unlike anything else, and we recognize the proven popularity of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (Farrar) and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain cycle beginning with The Book of Three (Holt). The last five authors mentioned are all Newbery Medal-winners, and Mr. White is a winner of the significant Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for a lasting body of work. For wholehearted enjoyment, and critical acclaim as well, there are Edward Eager’s Half Magic (Harcourt) and Beverly Cleary’s The Mouse and the Motorcycle (Morrow), and their sequels. For older readers of fantasy, Jean Merrill has written a brilliant fable for our times, The Pushcart War (W. R. Scott). Altogether, a rich harvest.
Filling a special place in modern children’s literature and contributing to an enduring body of work is science fiction. As Peter Dickinson, an Englishman writing for adults and young people, says, this genre has the “virtue of embodying abstract notions, allowing you to look beyond the everyday.” Thus, in the imaginative, controlled writing of John Christopher, Andre Norton, Ben Bova, and a few others, one sees a highly creative handling of philosophical ideas and social problems. ‘Pollution,” said Mr. Dickinson in an Exeter conference talk, “has been the current language of science fiction for twenty years.”
In recent years, the use of myth and legend in the framework of fantasy has been striking. Alan Garner,4 who won the Carnegie Medal and passionate admiration from discriminating readers young and old for his story The Owl Service (Walck), used as a springboard the Welsh myths which he found in The Mabinogion. He likes using mythology in his writing, he says, because “you find that over the millennia myth contains crystallized human experience and very powerful imagery. This imagery is useful for a writer if he uses it responsibly.”
As creators of the shorter literary fantasies often borrowing from folklore, we have seen Hans Christian Andersen and Howard Pyle, Frank Stockton and Lawrence Houseman, followed by Eleanor Farjeon and Walter de la Mare, and in England today by Barbara Leonie Picard and Joan Aiken.
A fresh gathering and retelling of folk tales from all corners of the globe has provided us with a steady stream of volumes attractively presented for storytellers and child readers. Some of today’s more distant gathering of tales has been done by Peace Corps workers, our contemporary counterparts of those nineteenth-century missionaries who gathered folklore. Other government workers and American residents abroad also have been gathering tales from local storytellers in Vietnam and in parts of Asia, as
4. See note 6. below.
92 well as in Africa. Harold Courlander’s many collections from Africa, Indonesia, and the West Indies have been models of good storytelling and fully documented sources.
But without traveling to remote areas, literary retellers have contributed something important in rendering anew the familiar tales. On this side of the Atlantic we look to Wanda Gag for her telling of Grimm; to Olivia Coolidge for her dealing with the Greek and Norse myths; to Dorothy Hosford, who added to our living volumes of myth and saga from the Norse; to Joseph Gaer for his versions of Asian tales. In England today Rosemary Sutcliff and the poet Ian Serrailier are giving new shape to legendary tales of the British Isles. Recently, a number of full-length books have extended the stories of individual mythical heroes, reworking the inherited literature as Eleanor Farjeon and Padraic Colum did in extending the Cinderella story and as opera, ballet, and other art-forms have done.
It is in picture-book form, however, that we have had a phenomenal modern use of the folk tale, though the picture-book folk tale, of course, is not a new idea. Randolph Caldecott and Leslie Brooke provided irresistible picture-book treatments of traditional material that will endlessly enrich our literature for small children. But to name modern artists who have notably contributed to this veritable flood of picture books with their conceptions of traditional tales and rhymes is to recite the roster of many distinguished modern illustrators: Felix Hoffman of Switzerland (an artist of many talents); our own Caldecott Medal-winners Marcia Brown, Maurice Sendak, Roger Duvoisin, Nonny Hogrogian, Evaline Ness, Barbara Cooney, and Un Shulevitz, as well as Wanda Gag, Margot Zemach, Peter Spier, and Adrienne Adams; and from England—Brian Wildsmith, Raymond Briggs, William Stobbs, and Edward Ardizzone.
The picture-book field has been served and is still being served particularly well for the very young by original nonsense and make-believe. The Beatrix Potter books have been joined by latter-day dressed-up-animal fantasies for small children, which are among the best told and most loved stories for children. Little Bear (Harper) has proved itself in many countries and the Hobans’ Frances books and the Duvoisins’ Happy Lion picture books have gone all over the world. A new I Can Read book, Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Are Friends (Harper), has an imaginative quality similar to that of Little Bear, and reaches both the very young listeners and the beginning readers for whom this series is intended. And there is the 1970 Caldecott Medal-winner, William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (Windmill/Simon). Its dressed-up donkeys and pigs are loved by American children and, already, as we have heard, by Japanese children for its plot and lively pictures. Raymond Briggs has also provided well for the youngest listener in his picture book The Elephant and the Bad Baby (Coward), a story by Elfrida Vipont which she had often told to her own children and grandchildren. And then there is that new stream of highly original animal nonsense books without words: The Adventures of Paddy Pork (Harcourt), Rosie’s Walk (Macmillan) and Frog, Where Are You? (Dial).
93 But how few books there are for the small child which combine storytelling, a sense of compassion, and pictures that can be lingered over—books with that perfect unity of words and illustration that makes a true picture book. I was cheered recently to hear that one highly praised though very young artist had declined to illustrate a picture-book manuscript, because, he said, “It was just untouched by human love.” A good description, his editor comments, of a “lot of manuscripts and a lot of published books, too, alas!”
In the international big business created by picture books in the last decade we have seen too many mistakes: books with lush, full-color, sophisticated artwork, printed abroad for co-publishing deals. But, at the same time, I agree with Julia MacRae’s view of the advantages of international cooperation. Like other editors, she sees these advantages from the point of view of a regular involvement in the flow of books between England, the United States, Switzerland, Japan, and other countries successful in this kind of publishing. Despite the danger of blandness due to tailoring a picture book to make it safe for all the countries involved, Miss MacRae sees the real advantage: being able to share with children all over the world picture books created by a “galaxy of names in the new golden age of the picture book.”
We recognize that in the earlier golden age, England furnished us with picture books that were destined to become classics in the English-speaking world. Later, we sent our American picture books to England. But today again the English have a number of distinguished artists at work, stimulated or at least recognized by England’s Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration, first presented in 1956. Miss MacRae’s accolade to modern picture books is echoed for England in Graphis, an international journal for the graphic arts, where in 1967 two other English commentators, Judy Taylor and John Ryder, contributed an article on “Children’s Book Illustration in England.” They noted that “In the past five years English children’s book publishing seems at last to have begun to loosen the shackles of American domination of their picture-books
In spite of reservations, we can agree that both in England and in the United States, we are indeed in a renaissance of children’s book illustration. In Illustrators of Children’s Books: 1957—1966, Ruth Giles Lontoft remarks that “in the past ten years illustrated children’s books have been unsurpassed in both quantity and quality by those of any other period of similar duration.”
It is too soon to evaluate the possible influences and contributions from the so-called “realistic” fiction of today, but we cannot avoid giving it attention. Children’s books, like adult books, have always reflected the times in which they have been created. Today, they project the restlessness and extreme reactions of an age of materialism and insecurity. Happily, however, in spite of a new load of didacticism, we can find writing with vitality by authors who have preferred not to deal with fantasy or with safer periods in the past. Arresting examples are Queenie Peavy (Viking) vividly
94 created by Robert Burch; Harriet the Spy (Harper); and stories by Paula Fox and Betsy Byars who both handle the problems of variously disadvantaged or harassed children with a depth and wholeness that make their treatments meaningful. The keen perception of childhood by such writers, and their resistance to standardization and to a narrow focusing on social cause, special environment, or personal problem suggest that their books may live. Elizabeth Enright’s earlier Melendy and Gone-Away stories and Eleanor Estes’ The Hundred Dresses (Harcourt) and her Moffat books with their gentle activities and environments, have shown the strength necessary for survival. In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, in Meindert DeJong’s stories, and in Kate Seredy’s The Good Master (Viking), adults as well as children play important roles, and the relationships drawn between children and adults contribute to a wholeness that is part of the books’ success.
I do question the narrowly centered case-study stories and must blame adults who buy these books for thus endorsing pressures put upon the publishers. And I often ponder to what degree children are different today, and ask: Are we being governed by a belief that children are so sophisticated and so accustomed to violence and knowledge of social vices that there are radically new reader interests? How much change must we allow for? Do children only appear to be more sophisticated? Or do they not still want to read for fun, for enjoyment, and for inspiration?
Aware of these questions, I was caught up sharply when I heard Deputy Minister of Culture, N. J. Mokhov speak in the Soviet Union this past summer on “Libraries as a Means of Education and Enlightenment” (in the U.S.S.R., libraries are considered to be a great power for children’s education). In his paper, Mr. Mokhov stated that “children become ‘grown-up’ early due to the conditions of life itself, including television, cinema, and radio.” And, he added, “children are increasingly becoming too grown-up for children’s books
Perhaps you read in Maia Wojciechowska’ s recent Don’t Play Dead Before You Have To (Harper) the complaint of a teen-age baby-sitter to a little boy in a home without television. “So what am I supposed to do with you, kid?” he shouts. “Do you realize that I haven’t spent one single solitary evening without a television since I was born?”
Soon after reading Don’t Play Dead Before You Have To, I came to John Steptoe’ s second handsomely illustrated picture book, Uptown (Harper)—a volume labeled for the four- to eight-year-olds. In this, two school children of Harlem discuss what they will be when they are grown up, including and dismissing in their dialogue the possibilities of becoming junkies or policemen. Mr. Steptoe says of his work, “This isn’t the type of book that some people want their children to read. But it is the way that some people’s children have to live.” To what age group belongs such a picture book or such a book as the recent picture-book presentation of an autistic child?
Again, we can ask whether preadolescent children will be able properly to interpret a searing indictment of a society which sympathizes with purse snatching by abjectly poor children moved from Appalachia to Chicago? Or the case of the eleven-year-old poor little rich boy in a story of retardation at school caused by neglect at home—a story that leaves the tearful boy and the reader as despairing of his world at the end of the book as at the beginning?
After reading these in all too close succession, I came up wondering what had gone wrong. Are authors being pressured, being encouraged to “tell it like it is” with no holds barred? My quibble is not so much with subject matter, however: Children can cope with reading about problems they are well aware of, including drugs and sex, and they can enjoy reading case studies if the storytelling is strong, the characters and background not limited, and the facts presented with truth. Just as we must not contribute to pressures put upon the author, we must not condemn him out of prejudice, but rather attempt to understand his intent.
It may be that the producers of these books are trying to provoke thought and discussion by airing the evils today’s society in fiction for children. The American editor of the story about the poor little rich boy wrote me that he believes the main contribution his book will make is to cause children to think—because, he says, “one doesn’t have the comfort which comes when an author makes it clear through his main character and his plot that he values certain things, and that these things will triumph in the end. It is ambiguous, paradoxical, sometimes unsettling—as much of life is.”
Julia MacRae has said:
[l]t is from America that much of the most interesting and provocative writing is coming at the moment, some of it perhaps too powerful for the present climate in Britain. We are still concerned by the question of what is, or is not, suitable for children and it is not a question which can be answered irresponsibly or overnight. We know that children need and want… emotional honesty and characters with whom 4hey can readily identify in works of imaginative literature. .
It is tempting to line up three final quotations, from authors who are also parents, and I do this because they hold such varying points of view.
First, from Joan Aiken,5 in a talk presented in England in 1969:
I can see that in such an increasingly threatened and frightening world as ours now is, children, probably more than ever before, need to be given real values and sustaining ideas and memories that they can hold on to and cherish.
5. See note 6, below
96 Another side of the argument is represented by such critics as Julius Lester, who said in a piece entitled “The Kinds of Books We Give Children: Whose Nonsense?” (Publishers Weekly, Feb. 23, 1970):
Unfortunately, there aren’t many children’s books as ruthlessly honest and painful as Harriet and the Promised Land (Windmill / Simon) [that brief picture-book presentation of Harriet Tubman]. Too many of us feel that children are to be protected and sheltered from pain. Yet, they live close to it and perceive it every day. And not to acknowledge its existence is really to leave them unprotected and unsheltered.
John Rowe Townsend, whose stories deal skillfully, honestly, and sharply with the underprivileged child of the inner city, states:
We are not trying to protect from life children who are not suffering deprivations and discrimination. They should read about them and not be shielded—up to the point that they can understand. But burdening them with social and psychological problems may be too great a burden.
In this confusion, we must admit that children are not alike; they do not all have the same needs. We cannot therefore make sweeping generalizations about “relevance,” or prescribe problem literature for the child, but only insist on honesty and compassion, and a show of some degree of faith and hope in the resolution of the human plight. In library service we are aiming as never before to recognize differences in cultural background, reading readiness, and attitudes to life, endeavoring to make reading a part of all young lives, through a universal library service, with a book production that attempts to meet the needs of every socioeconomic area. As we admit these purposes, we must admit that the literature designed to serve such needs is likely to relate little to the question of a golden age.
I agree with author Leon Garfield,6 who sets his problem stories in the past because, he says, he finds “the social aspects of contemporary life too fleeting to grasp imaginatively before they are legislated out of existence. And anyway,” he continues, “I don’t think the novel is as suited to coping with them as is the television documentary or the newspaper. It was once, but not now. . . . Fortunately for the novelist,” he adds, “human nature is more constant than fashion.”
If we are depressed by some of these signs of our times, and unready to shout too loudly about a golden age, we must take cheer from the positive achievements and trends that affect the status of children’s books. For example, efforts have been made both in the United States and in England to insist that children’s literature is part of the mainstream of literature. Aware, then, of some advance in the status of children’s literature and convinced of creativity in important areas, I feel we are justified in backing Mr. Townsend when we agree with him that we are in the “second golden age” of children’s literature.
British editions of books mentioned with their American publishers in this article:
John Rowe Townsend. Written for Children: An Outline of Englih Children’s Literature. J. G. Miller, revised edition Kestrel.
Scott O’Dell. bland of the Blue Dolphins. Longman/Kestrel.
Meindert Dejong. The Wheel on the School. Lutterworth Press.
Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin. The Happy Lion. Bodley Head.
Leo L.ionni. Swimmy. Dobson.
Hugh Lofting. The Story of Doctor Dolftile. Cape.
Esther Forbes.Johnny Tremain. Longman/Kestrel.
Elizabeth George Speare. The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Gollancz.
Irene Hunt. Across Five Aprils. Bodley Head.
Philippa Pearce. Tom’s Midnight Garden. Oxford University Press.
Pauline Clarke. The Twelve and the Genii (published in U.S.A. as The Return of the Twelves). Faber.
J.R.R. Tolkien. The Hobbit. Allen & Unwin.
Mary Norton. The Borrowers. Dent.
P.L Travers. Mary Poppins. Collins.
E.B. White. Charlotte’s Web. Hamish Hamilton.
E.B. White. The Trumpet of the Swan. Hamish Hamilton.
Robert I.awson. Rabbit Hill. Harrap:
Madeleine L’Engle. A Wrinkle in Time. Longman/ Kestrel.
Uoyd Alexander. The Book of Three. Heinemann.
Edward Eager. Half Máic Macmillan.
Jean Merrill. The Pushcart War. Hamish Hamilton.
Alan Gamer. The Owl Service. Collins.
Else Holmelund Mjnarjk. Little Bear. World’s Work.
Arnold Lobel. Frog and Toad are Friends. World’s Work.
William Steig. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. Abelard-Schuman.
Elfrida Vipont. The Elephant and the Bad Baby. Hamish Hamilton.
John Strickland Goodall. The Adventures of Paddy Pork. Macmillan.
Pat Hutchins. Rosie’s Walk. Bodley Head.
Louise Fitzhugh. Harriet the Spy. Gollancz.
Kate Seredy. The Good Master. Harrap.
6. Quoted from Children’s Literature in Education, Volume I, No. 2, July 1970, St. Luke’s College, Exeter, England (APS Publications, Inc.): Alan Garner, “Coming to terms”; Joan Aiken, “A thread of mystery”; Leon Garfield, “Writing for childhood.”