Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

'Cutting It' in New Times: The Future of Children's Literature?

Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

'Cutting It' in New Times: The Future of Children's Literature?

Article excerpt

In 1998, I attended my first ACLAR conference at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga (NSW). John Stephens gave the keynote address and his paper was principally concerned with what children's literature scholars were interested in--namely, what theoretical/critical approaches were reflected in journals and what were the predominant concerns with the fiction. His conclusions, based on a survey of 24 articles published in the then latest 1998 issue of four journals--Papers; Children's Literature in Education, Children's Literature, and Lion and the Unicorn--were:

  We are interested in fiction and literary history, often in tandem; we
  are not much interested in poetry, film, drama, or theory in itself;
  we approach texts from historicist and formalist stances; we are
  modern in our thematic concerns with socio-cultural discourses of
  ethnicity/race, gender and class (but the fiction itself is apt to
  dictate that); and critical practice is taking on board some concepts
  from modern cultural and literary theories ... the most common of
  these is intertextuality, which is characteristically deployed in
  relation to smaller/or visual texts to fiction (Stephens 1999, p.7).

The fourteen papers included in the proceedings of that conference, Something to Crow About: New Perspectives in Literature for Young People (Clancy & Gibney 1999), tend to support Stephens' point in that whilst some papers incorporated postcolonial, feminist, and narrative theories, the majority tended to view texts and genres from a formalist and/or historicist perspective. Furthermore, the majority of the papers were interested in realist fiction, historical fiction, and picture books; however, poetry and film were also the subject of two papers. What is interesting from a 2006 perspective is that Judith Butler and theories of performativity were absent, and Harry Potter was still being conceived in some coffee shop in Edinburgh by an allegedly desperate housewife soon to become a literary superstar.

So eight years on, I want to consider not so much the question--'What are we interested in now?'--but to raise some questions about the future of children's literature, both its fiction and its scholarship. By turning the phrase 'the future of children's literature' into a question, I don't want to pose a philosophical puzzle, but to ask a real question which demands serious consideration. I think that given the 'new times' in which we are all supposedly living we need to give careful consideration to this question, not out of concern for any discomfort these new times might afford us on a personal level, but out of a genuine concern for the future of children's literature studies. I want to approach this paper by considering three things: (i) How are new times impacting on us as scholars working in children's literature?; (ii) What are the new directions offered to us by children's cultural texts? (iii) What are the new tasks we can set ourselves before they are set for us?.

'Who sank the boat?': New times, Generation Y, and Children's literature scholars

While 'new times' can be recorded at various points throughout the history of the world, the current 'new times' we are experiencing in the Western world are also emerging in many other non-western countries--the opening of McDonald's in Beijing is an example. A number of factors characterize our current period of new times which are producing fast and continual social, economic and cultural changes. These factors include: (i) rapid innovations in scientific and technological knowledge; (ii) high-speed flows of information, ideas, images, people and money across increasingly porous territorial borders through global capitalism; (iii) increased consumption; (iv) the blurring of online and offline worlds; (v) and a merging of global and local (glocal) as global flows of cultural products are reworked and reinscribed in local settings (Castells 2000). …

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