The Case of Peter Rabbit: Changing Conditions of Literature for Children

The Case of Peter Rabbit: Changing Conditions of Literature for Children

The Case of Peter Rabbit: Changing Conditions of Literature for Children

The Case of Peter Rabbit: Changing Conditions of Literature for Children

Synopsis

With the wide variety of formats and products associated with Beatrix Potter's classic The Tale of Peter Rabbit, the author raises questions about the impact of these developments on young readers.

Excerpt

Print has always been seen as an agent of social change; children learning to read have gained access to a source of potential power. Now print itself is under siege and children are learning to read amid a welter of expanding technologies and different media and increasing commercial pressures.

Not very long ago, reading represented a child's first independent access to the delights of story and information. Radio, television and film all operated on a schedule determined by someone else, and the pleasures of the record player required adult supervision in order to minimize damage to discs and stylus. Today, however, a toddler may learn to manipulate video and audio cassette, CD-ROM and computer mouse, long before tackling the complexities of print.

Commercial as well as technological changes affect the ways in which children engage with fictions. Children's books and toys have been associated from the very beginning; John Newbery offered a free ball or pincushion with copies of the first book to be marketed specifically for children in 1744 (Carpenter and Prichard, 1984, p. 375). However, it is only very recently that a family's discretionary spending has included substantial expenditure on children's recreation. Children's stories have long been recast into other forms (ranging from paper dolls to major stage presentations), but the scale of such transformations has now expanded beyond recognition. Authors or commercial groups who successfully engage children's fictional imaginations may ramify that imaginative commitment into multiple versions and multiplying profits. Children may now meet their favorite characters and their favorite plots over and over again, even without rereading. We have only begun to explore some of the consequences for how they learn to think about fiction.

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