Literature for Children: Contemporary Criticism

By Peter Hunt | Go to book overview

3

Internationalism

Because of its position in the literary system, children's literature leans towards internationalism and multiculturalism for several reasons. There is the supposed universality of at least some aspects of 'childhood' (or early youth), the educative/ acculturalizing role of children's literature in many societies, and the positioning of the 'universal' folk/fairy tale in children's literature. Consequently, the criticism has tended both to deal with the literature of many cultures, as with the Children's Literature Association in North America or the Institut für Jugendbuchforschung at Frankfurt am Main; or actually to organize itself internationally, as with the International Research Society for Children's Literature, the International Board on Books for the Young or the Internationale Jugendbibliothek at Munich.

Some of the pressures are, as Margaret Kinnell has pointed out, pragmatic-within the UK, teachers of children's literature (as well as teachers of children) are facing increasingly multicultural audiences. There are also 'questions about the cultural “ownership” of children's literature'. More positively,

At the 'macro' level, children's books are seen as an invaluable means of spreading international understanding-what Paul Hazard termed 'the world republic of childhood' provides a powerful metaphor of internationalism, expressing the universal belief that children share much in common [Hazard 1947]. And more, their literature offers access to this sharing of values, norms, and experiences, just as it also offers a means of understanding cultural disparity.

However, there is a real risk of-at best-platitudinising and at worst, manipulation of various kinds, when children's books are assessed in terms of their utility value in furthering the grand design of enhancing under-

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