Editorial

Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature, May 2008 | Go to article overview

Editorial


The cover of this issue of Papers features an image which appears in the First Book of the Victorian Readers, originally published in 1928. As Jane McGennisken demonstrates in her essay on Australian mythologies of childhood in the Tasmanian and Victorian Readers, the literary texts selected for these Readers represent Australian children as innocent inhabitants of a young country, a conceit also proposed by Ethel Turner at the beginning of Seven Little Australians: 'the land and the people are young-hearted together'. McGennisken argues that these imaginings of an innocent Australian childhood are analogous with mythologies of an innocent nation, which act to divert attention from the (less innocent) histories of imperialism fundamental to the nation's foundation. Another preoccupation of the Readers is the idea of the child as leader, in stories about courageous children like Grace Bussell, who in rescuing the victims of a shipwreck demonstrates the qualities of Australian girlhood by exercising a motherly concern. The Readers constitute an important component of reading material for Australian children from the late 19th century until the 1940s; the online database AustLit: the Australian Literature Resource now includes a section on the Victorian Readers and the Victorian School Papers, at: http://www.austlit.edu.au/(go to 'Research Communities', 'Australian Children's Literature' and 'The Victorian Classroom').

Children's literature has a tradition of commenting on and illuminating the social contexts which shape their construction. In her article, 'A Great Ghastly Mistake'?: Approaches to Teenage Pregnancy in K. M. Peyton's Pennington's Heir and Berlie Doherty's Dear Nobody, Madelyn Travis locates her analysis of the focus texts' treatment of teenage pregnancy within their different social and temporal contexts. Despite the twenty years that separate their publications and the different settings of Britain and the United States, Travis argues that the more recent text, Dear Nobody, 'is at times conservative and regressive in its treatment of its central theme, while the earlier and less well received Pennington's Heir is the more socially progressive text'.

Naarah Sawers' essay, "You molded me like clay": David Almond's Sexualised Monsters', approaches two of Almond's novels, Skellig and Clay, through the lens of psychoanalytical theory, examining their gendered representations with a focus on the humanoid figures (Skellig and Clay) which feature in these novels. Sawers' close reading of the novels argues that these monstrous masculine figures function to draw male protagonists toward gender models which reinforce traditional versions of masculinity, even as both novels incorporate agential, independent female characters.

Comparative literature is the subject of Maria Nikolajeva's article 'Comparative Children's Literature: What is There to Compare?'. As a field of enquiry, comparative literature studies encompass a wide range of interests including literary genres, motifs and themes, influences, and typological resemblances. As Nikolajeva points out, 'the purpose of comparison can be a deeper understanding of literary texts in a broader historical, social and literary context; it can also be an examination of influences and intertexts'. …

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