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

By Anne Lundin | Go to book overview

Epilogue
"Only connect! Only connect the prose and the passions, And both will
be exalted.... Live in fragments no longer!"

-E. M. Forster, Howards End

In Charlotte's Web, E. B. White-gentle satirist of the human condition-tells us something about our uses of language in the web Charlotte weaves. To save pig Wilbur's life, Charlotte the spider spins a web over his head with certain words, chosen from the dump by the rat Templeton: "SOME PIG," TERRIFIC," RADIANT," "HUMBLE." This absurd laudation succeeds in saving Wilbur's life and suggests the machinations-and miracles-of language. How easily people can be fooled, Charlotte muses, as she notes how gullible people really are: "not as smart as a bug." I read this memorable scene as a wry comment on our credulity with print and conceit with prize: the power of the select words we weave over certain books, such as "GREAT," "BEST," "CLASSIC," TOUCHSTONE." 1 White suggests such appropriation of language for our own purposes does not transform the object viewed-still a plain old pig-but instead the viewer of the object who envisions a different creation. 1

That is my "slant of truth" on the canon we have built of children's literature in the twentieth century. Caroline Hewins's guidebook, Anne Carroll Moore's booklists and book columns, Anne Jordan's definitive Classics, children's literature anthologies and curriculum, and the Children's Literature Association's Touchstones are all efforts to transform children's books into something else-from "book" to "literature"-through valorization of classics. Both groups invested in the faith that evaluating children's books with the same standards as adult books would position them within their institutions and the larger culture. The process of making distinctions inevitably reflects on the institution and its practitioners, who all shine in the reflection of the medal. Choosing greatness must convey greatness, where both awardee and awarder share the prize. What is the prize? I believe it is cultural positioning, cultural validation. It's a game where we don't know the rules, or they keep changing. The problem is much more profound

-141-

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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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