Reviews 2010

Facets of Children’s Literature Research: Collected and Revised Writings

Facets of Children’s Literature Research: Collected and Revised Writings. Göte Klingberg. Stockholm: Swedish Institute for Children’s Books, 2008. 197 pages. E-book.

It is inspiring to read a work by someone who dedicated his life to children’s literature research. In this e-book, Göte Klingberg offers numerous reflections collected from various papers and presentations in order to offer those who are newer to the study of children’s literature some worthwhile issues to consider. Klingberg highlights considerations that should contribute to the organisation of one’s research into children’s literature: define relevant terms as they will be used for a particular project, describe how those terms become operational in one’s research, and consider the cross-disciplinary influences of psychology, sociology and pedagogy on children’s literature. In addition, Klingberg stresses the importance of terminological and conceptual definition when establishing a working bibliography. Although he states that the concept of children’s literature is a construct so that “it can be defined as the bibliographer chooses” (21), it is important that the definition should be informed by contemporary criticism concerning how children’s literature is understood in different contexts. Klingberg offers a list of questions that researchers should consider when developing the scope of a particular research project, including the time span, languages, publishers, and order of information. Later in the text, in a section titled “A typology of the fantasy-fantastic field,” Klingberg demonstrates how his advice may be applied.

Klingberg’s e-book provides advice for studying adaptations of children’s literature, whether from a historical approach, from a translation-studies angle, or from comparative analysis with adult texts. Throughout the book he offers interesting insights into the issues faced when researching works in minor languages. Klingberg draws the novice researcher’s attention to the fact that didacticising is still “vogue” in children’s literature, which of course eventually leads to reflections on constructs of the child, whose interests those constructs serve, and the relationship between adults and children (15). He writes that “children are what the adults make of them” (13). His text contributes to the dialogue concerning the “politics of innocence” (Giroux, 1993) surrounding children’s literature when he describes how purification occurs when adults adapt works for young readers. Klingberg states that purification is based on “the set of values of the adult intermediary;” therefore, children’s texts often do not contain social taboos of a given culture . Different societies will purify texts in different ways, which can, as Klingberg notes, show how societies’ “virtues” change over time (29, 34).

Even though his research is for the most grounded in his vast knowledge of the Swedish context, Klingberg offers a generalised overview of the historical development of children’s literature, which he imbeds into his discussion of different typologies in the field of children’s literature research. He notes the influences of oral traditions, poetry, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and the development of national literatures on books produced for children. He draws attention to the fact that children’s books are political and have often functioned to promote patriotism and “save the cultural heritage” of a particular society (50). In sum, he states that books for children usually have a double message in that they are designed to entertain but also to “warn” or teach children (41).

One of the most useful aspects of this book is that Klingberg makes several recommendations for further research in the field of children’s literature, suggesting that scholars should engage in various modes of interdisciplinary collaboration and consider how increasing globalisation influences the dissemination of national literatures, especially oral traditions. Although Klingberg mentions that researchers have to take into account the relationship between texts and readers, he fails to position himself firmly in relation to current criticism and theories of text-reader interplay. Facets of Children’s Literature offers novice researchers in the field wise advice in many respects; however, the consolidation of numerous works into this one e- book, mixed with numerous editorial mistakes, gives the book a feeling of disconnection and inconsistency. If a reader can overcome these challenges , the wise and experienced Klingberg offers plenty of worthwhile information to consider.

Works Cited

Giroux, Henry A. ‘Beyond the Politics of Innocence: Memory and Pedagogy in the “Wonderful World of Disney”’. Socialist Review 23.2 (1993): 79-107.

Elke Brems
University College Brussels, Belgium