Common Assumptions about Childhood

    Exercise:   Children’s books are, or should be, _______________.

Children are, or should be, ________________.


    Society’s ideas about children are a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy; in other words, adults’ ideas about children operate as part of society’s ideology


Louis Althusser calls ideological concepts “obviousness”.


What people believe to be obvious determines how they operate.


Ideology is a matter of politics.


Raymond Williams: the ideology dominant in a particular society constitutes a sense of reality … beyond which it is very difficult for most members of the society to move, in most areas of their lives” (Marxism and Literature, 1977, 110)


sounds quite pessimistic… but fortunately: the basis of resistance is awareness


    Childhood in History


Q: Why did the invention of children’s literature of the kind people now take for granted come so late in history?


A: there was not children’s literature until adults came to believe that children were different from adults in ways that made them need a literature of their own.


Philippe Ariès (Centuries of Childhood, 1962): in medieval Europe, there was no concept of childhood as people now understand it.

ERecommended reading: Centuries of Childhood, Chapter VI


Ariès’s ideas are controversial, and many scholars have challenged them.

Linda Pollock (Forgotten Children, 1983): Ariès depends too much on secondary sources.

“I believe there is no reason to assume that parental care must vary according to developments and changes in society as a whole”.

Shulamith Shahar: there was a different conception of childhood operated back them.

Perry Nodelman: the parents of the Middle Ages expressed their love quite differently from the ways parents do now.

    N. Ray Hiner and Joseph M. Hawes: …childhood is not an immutable stage of life, free from the influence of historical change.

i.e. ideas about children and childhood are part of a society’s ideology.


    Early Children’s Literature

In the Middle Ages

Bennett Brockman: the Middle Ages made no provision for a separate literature for children, apart from pedagogical texts designed to teach them to read, to write, to cipher, and to behave civilly.

        Cautions: embedded ideology


Gillian Adams: to assert that only our conception of childhood can result in children’s literature, a literature that only we are able to judge as literature in terms of its literary value, is a kind of cultural imperialism and ideological colonialism that modern critics … often seek to avoid.


Children’s literature did exist in the Middle Ages, but needs to be searched for…


The Literature Clearly Intended for Children

-in the 17th Century, in England by Puritans – the first child-centered group in history.

E.G. James Janeway’s Token for Children (1672)


-What we currently see as the literature children obviously need and will like was       mainly an European concept.


-There was almost nothing about texts produced before the 1740s that would be considered as “works produced ostensibly to give children spontaneous pleasure, and not primarily to teach them” (Harvey Darton, Children’s Books in England)


-John Newbery 1740 middle-class


-the ideological basis of children’s literature is assumptions about children


Childhood Nowadays

          -Assumptions abut children’s literature


          -assumptions about childhood


          -the danger of assumption:

          a. imply that individual children are more like one another in being children than unlike one another in being individuals


          b. these assumptions define childhood almost exclusively by its limitations