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Tue January 17, 2012
Dr. Julia Mickenberg, The University of Texas at Austin - Politics of Children's Books
Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Julia Mickenberg of the University of Texas at Austin explains how the political climate of the twentieth century influenced children's literature.
Julia Mickenberg is an associate professor in the American Studies Department at the University of Texas at Austin. She is co-editor of Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children's Literature and The Oxford Handbook of Children's Literature. Professor Mickenberg's current book project is tentatively entitled The New Woman Tries on Red: Russia in the American Feminist Imagination, 1905-1945. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota.
Dr. Julia Mickenberg - Politics of Children's Books
We don't usually think of children's books as political, but since its origins in the 17th century, literature for children has been infused with messages about morality, power, and authority. The New England Primer (date), for instance, included "The Dutiful Child's Promise": "I will fear God and honor the good/I will honor my mother and father/I will obey my superiors." Such explicit calls to obey may strike us as odd today, but most children's literature continues to uphold the status quo, which is why it does not seem to be, but very much is, political.
My research in children's literature has focused on books written by individuals wishing to challenge the status quo. In Learning from the Left, I examined the ways in which children's literature served as a vehicle for radicals in the United States during the McCarthy period, as other avenues of expression were closed off, and as children's literature, a field largely controlled by women and aimed at children, was ignored, overlooked, or presumed safe. In fact, many of the most popular and critically acclaimed books of the 1940s and 1950s were written or illustrated by Communists or communist sympathizers, from Harold and the Purple Crayon to Danny and the Dinosaur to many little Golden Books.
In Tales for Little Rebels, Philip Nel and I collected texts for children representing many of the 20th century's leftist movements, from socialism to communism to civil rights, feminism , and environmentalism. We did this not for political reasons, but to recover a largely forgotten literary tradition. Our recent article in the Children's Literature Association Quarterly, "Radical Children's Literature Now," shows that this tradition continues.