Magazine article CSLA Journal

Children's Literature in California. A Brief History through Newspaper Reporting

Magazine article CSLA Journal

Children's Literature in California. A Brief History through Newspaper Reporting

Article excerpt

The multifaceted history of childrens literature has been analyzed and charted since its early championship at the turn of the last century, to its broad acceptance not only as a discipline of study but also as a publishing powerhouse (Taxel, 2002; Lerer, 2008; Marcus, 2008). In researching the history of children's literature in California, newspapers offer a prism through which to examine some of the issues, concerns, and debates that emerged over the last century. Perhaps not surprisingly, school libraries have occupied center stage in critical and public discussion. This survey, which is necessarily schematic, looks at how children's literature informed some of the contemporary debates over its intrinsic value to young readers.

Loci of Engagement

School libraries have been on the educational radar since 1865, when the Superintendent of Public Instruction in California, John Swett, first recommended them (Madison, 1943). For several decades starting in the 1930s, teacher librarians and journalists wrote regular newspaper columns about children's literature and its readers. Often showcasing their services -Children's Book Week was an annual favorite - these librarians promoted children's literature to young readers with accounts of programming, recommended reading lists, story hours, bookmobile service, projects, volunteer service, etc.

The lists of suggested reading that appeared in these local newspapers could be long, and are not recorded here. In some cases, librarians would also mention reading preferences of teens and young children according to subject: realistic fiction, fairy tales, adventure, westerns, animals, pioneers, biographies, and light romance. Looking at these titles and subjects, there was not always a sharp distinction between what children should and did read, and the overlap between popular (children's choice) and quality (adult) literature may have been closer than one would expect.

Somewhat surprisingly, traditional notables like Newbery and Caldecott titles rarely appeared in these columns, and many of those titles teacher librarians recommended are long forgotten. In this regard, the establishment of the California Young Reader Medal in 1974, with its awards chosen by children and recommendations of teacher librarians, represented a watershed of sorts in its recognition of children's literary tastes. This annual award is often used today by teacher librarians as a tool for civic engagement (Loon, 2005).

California Authors and Settings

California authors and stories set in California were occasionally singled out in local newspapers. As part of the celebrations of Children's Book Week in 1954, the Kern County Library recommended Beady Bear by Don Freeman; Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss, and Nino and His Fish by Edith Heard, a story about "how Angelo, whose restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey is familiar to many of us, makes a real birthday party possible for Nino" (Branham, 1954).

Doris Gates, a popular California author of children's literature, also appeared on recommended lists (Taylor, 1962; 1967). Likewise with Scott O'Dell, whose book Island of the Blue Dolphins won the Newbery Award in 1961 and also appeared as a recommended title. That same year, the Children's Literature Council of Southern California was founded with its mission to celebrate the contributions of local authors and illustrators to the field.

Diversity of Characters, Settings and Theme

By the late 1950s children's books had become more diverse in terms of characters, settings and theme. But again, there could be costs. In discussing a recent set of early readers-Play With Jimmy, Laugh with Larry, and Fun With David, all of which had been illustrated by California artist Ruth Ives- the writer (not a librarian) noted that these stories were "designed to take the child from where he is to where society wants him to be rather than being beyond his dreams" (Meriwether, 1963). …

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