In October 2013, Cotsen hosted the conference, “Putting the Figure on the Map: Imagining Sameness and Difference for Children.” The monograph based on the proceedings, Imagining Sameness and Difference in Children’s Literature from the Enlightenment to the Present Day co-edited by Emer O’Sullivan (Leuphana University) and Andrea Immel (Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University), has just been published by Palgrave Macmillan in the series “Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature.” It features thirty-seven black-and white illustrations; for color, the e-book must be purchased.
The front cover features a charming illustration of stylishly dressed little Parisians holding hands with Alsatian children in traditional costume from the famous picture book Mon village (1917). While the illustration appears to celebrate friendship, the author/illustrator Oncle Hansi (aka Jean-Jacques Waltz) was only interested in friendship among French-speaking Alsatians and the French. At the time Alsace-Lorraine belonged to Germany and Oncle Hansi cruelly caricatured the German-speaking Alsatians as he worked tirelessly to overthrow German rule so that the region could rejoin France. The propaganda is made palatable by the style of the illustrations and readers now find it difficult to see what the conventions of representation were supposed to communicate.
As O’Sullivan and Immel argue in the introduction, “The identification and evaluation of these conventions concerns practioners–parents, teachers, school librarians, editors, and publishers vetting materials–the process is equally important to literary critics and historians who examine children’s books for evidence of a society’s attitudes and the way those ideas circulate in order to contextualize them. A nuanced understanding of the what and how and why of portraying sameness and difference is critical to an appreciation of the role of children’s books in promoting social change.”
The twelve essays by leading scholars from the United States and European Union: the roster includes Amanda M. Brian, Nina Christensen, Gabrielle von Glasenapp, Margaret Higonnet, Cynthia J. Koepp, Gillian Lathey, Silke Meyer, Lara Saguisag, Martina Seifert, and Verena Rutschmann. Texts from Denmark, Germany, France, Russian, and the United States from the last two hundred years are analyzed–not just literary works, but picture books, non-fiction, comics, instructional volumes, novelties with moveable illustrations. This volume does not attempt to offer a comprehensive survey or history of representations of difference in children’s literature: rather the contributors “offer a sample of the issues and materials that are a part of this history and the kinds of questions that can and must be asked of them if such a survey or history should be written. By engaging with the past…the authors provide a wider context and a more discerning way to look at diversity and national identify tropes in children’s literature today.”