Constructing the Canon of Children's Literature: Beyond Library Walls and Ivory Towers

By Anne Lundin | Go to book overview

Chapter Two

Best Books: The Scholar

"What we have loved, others will love, and we will teach them how."

-William Wordsworth, Prelude

The scholar of children's literature is also "Cinderella." That complex tale of transformation and destiny tells how the scholar in rags schemes and dreams to regain a lost patrimony, a place at the table. Alison Lurie may have been the first to use the trope in her 1984 novel Foreign Affairs, in which the heroine is a children's literature scholar devalued by her colleagues. Lurie writes:

For the truth is that children's literature is a poor relation in her department-indeed, in most English departments: a step-daughter grudgingly tolerated because, as in the old tales, her words are glittering jewels of a sort that attract large if not equally brilliant masses of undergraduates. Within the departmental family she sits in the chimney-corner, while her idle, ugly siblings dine at the chairman's table-though to judge by enrollment figures, many of them would spout toads and lizards. 1

Such sweet revenge from the author, a children's literature scholar herself who has surely endured the snubs and sneers of academia. If we take the interpretation of Cinderella that Iona and Peter Opie offer, the tale is about the reclaiming of authority, the assertion of true identity: "Her story is not one of rags to riches, or of dreams come true, but of reality made evident." 2 With the rise of respectability in higher education, children's literature has become a Bildungsroman, coming of age.

Why such a wait for recognition? What happened between the heyday of the Golden Age of children's books and the here-and-now of children's literature struggling for a place at the table? While there are multiple social factors affecting cultural validation, I sense that their slow rise to position came through the reluctance of the literati to consider children's literature as art, a stature held in the height of the Victorian era in a rich, shared culture. A few scholars have pondered

-57-

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Constructing the Canon of Children's Literature: Beyond Library Walls and Ivory Towers
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Series Editor's Foreword ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Prologue xiii
  • Chapter One - Best Books: the Librarian 1
  • Chapter Two - Best Books: the Scholar 57
  • Chapter Three - Best Books: the Reader 109
  • Epilogue 141
  • Notes 149
  • Selected Bibliography 161
  • Index 167
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