University of Aarhus, Denmark
Childhood, told for children: Analysis of childhood in picturebooks
Picturebooks portray children. From small books for the very young, to picturebooks for young adults, the actions and behaviour of child characters, the choices of these fictive children, and the interaction among them play a central part in the narratives of picturebooks. My talk will introduce recent critical approaches to childhood in children’s literature, especially Marah Gubar’s ‘kinship model’ which is “premised on the idea that children and adults are akin to one another, which means they are neither exactly the same nor radically dissimilar”. Gubar proposes a focus on “relatedness, connection, and similarity without implying homogeneity, uniformity, and equality” (Gubar 2013: 453). On the basis of a brief historical introduction, the talk will discuss analytical approaches to the representation of contemporary childhood, using books that treat ‘serious’ topics – such as death, serious illness and maltreatment of children – as examples. I argue that child readers are exposed to a multiplicity of interpretations of what it means to be a child: Retrospective, prescriptive, and allegedly realistic or descriptive approaches coexist. Researchers must, therefore, develop refined analytical tools, and execute analyses with the awareness that different approaches to childhood coexist, blend, and contradict one another.
Gubar, Marah (2013) “Risky Business. Talking About Children in Children’s Literature Criticism,” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 38.4: 450–557.