Imagining Sameness and Difference in Children’s Literature just published

The Little Traveller, or A Sketch of the Various Nations of the World (London: Dean and Munday, ca. 1830).

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.”

Dolls and Sights of the Crystal Palace from the series “Aunt Mavor’s Picturebooks for Little Readers.” (London; Routledge, 1852).

Lapland Sketches, or Delineations of the Costume, Habits and Peculiarites of Jens Holm and his Wife Karina Christian. Jens and Karina were exhibited at the Egyptian Hall in London. (London: J. Harris and Son, 1822). Cotsen 40103.


Run, Run, Run as Fast as You Can! Gotta Get Away from the Gingerbread Man…

When I was fooling around with the idea of a Christmassy post about gingerbread, I was expecting to include “The Gingerbread Man,” the American version of the tale type about some kind of food (usually a pancake) that runs away from the people who made it for their meal, then a whole succession of other hungry creatures, only to be outsmarted by a fox   The most interesting stories I found featuring gingerbread men weren’t cut out with the same cutter, so I decided to let them out of the cookie jar after the holiday season had come and gone.  And for good reason…

Oh no, it’s Mr. Bill’s cousins!

In Northern Europe, molds and cutters for gingerbread cookies are available in more  sizes and shapes than the all-American little man with short chubby arms and legs.  Some of the gingerbread cookies that turn up in Scandinavian children’s books like Ottilia Adelborg’s Bilderbok (Stockholm: Albert Bonnier, 1907) are the stuff out of bad dreams, not visions of sugar plums.  The illustration below shows a brother and sister dreaming of a gingerbread troll after helping their mother with the Christmas baking.

The Brown Book or The Story of the Gingerbread Man illustrated by Florence Hardy (London: Henry Frowde and Hodder & Stoughton, 1909) looked perfectly innocent on the outside.  Little Timothy Brown so lusts for the gingerbread man in the village shop, that he asks the proprietress if he can have it and pay in three weekly installments.  When she refuses the offer, he goes home and throws a tantrum.  Suddenly a giant gingerbread man appears and says, “As you want me so much, you see I’ve come…But as you can’t pay in pence, you must pay me some other way.”  He marches the boy home, where he is forced to do hard labor, along with a band of forest creatures.  One night when his oppressor is fast asleep, the boy escapes from bondage, just ahead of the Gingerbread Man’s bullets.   But it’s all a bad dream and Timothy is presented with the coveted gingerbread man by his mother.  Wonder why he eats it immediately…

The Royal Baking Powder advertising brochure, The Little Gingerbread Man (1923), takes place in the kingdom of Jalapomp where there’s nothin’ lovin’ is comin’ from the oven, the royal cook being so incompetent that the king has banished all baking, including birthday cakes.  Informed of this draconian measure by the Flour Fairy, the Queen of neighboring Cooky Land calls for volunteers to airlift light, fresh, hot cakes and buns made properly with Royal Baking Powder to Jalapomp.  The smells alone are enough  to convince the king to restore the delights of baked goods to him and his subjects.  The motley posse of volunteers–a sugar cookie, buckwheat cake, doughnut, and muffin–led by Johnny Gingerbread do not look especially toothsome.   The simplest explanation for the heroes’ unappetizing appearance is that the artist Charles J. Coll could draw fairies, but not sweets.  Would a child see  every cookie on the dessert plate with hideous wrinkles and staring eyes?

But the piece de resistance is John Dough and the Cherub (1906).   M. Jules Grogrande, the French baker, goes into the shop at 3 am to make a nattily dressed gingerbread man as big as a fourteen-year-old boy to put in the window in honor of the 4th of July holiday.  He accidentally mixes diluted Elixir of Life, which his wife left in a bowl on the counter, into the dough.  I think you can figure out what happened next…

Gary Trousdale and the team responsible for Scared Shrekless, eat your hearts out. You thought you were the first to retell Frankenstein with gingerbread people?  L. Frank Baum, creator of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and its Royal Illustrator John R. Neill, beat you to it in John Dough…

Gingy examining the freshly baked Sugar from “The Bride of Gingy” section of Scared Shrekless.