The Presence of the Past in Children’s Literature
by Ann Lawson Lucas (Editor)
he Presence of the Past consists of papers delivered at
the 13th congress of the International Research Society
for Children’s Literature (IRSCL) held at York in 1997.
Most of the papers are short – no more than six to eight
pages, excluding the copious references accompanying
each paper. This gives a sharp focus to what is discussed
and allows for a diversity of topics and approaches to
the congress theme. Overall, the contributors (from 11
countries) argue cogently, and, in some instances,
fiercely. Zohar Shavit argues that post-war German children’s
literature makes analogies between Nazis and
Jews: frequently, both are depicted as small and dark, in
the image of Hitler, and both are shown as participants
in strange rituals. Shavit’s paper is followed by one from
Susan Tebbutt on Anne Frank and the difficulties of
discussing the Holocaust in children’s literature, and in
the same section, on World War II, Gillian Lathey raises
questions about how ideology may be addressed or
evaded in narratives dealing with situations of conflict.
She gives close attention to two picturebooks, by Tomi
Ungerer and Michael Foreman respectively, but the
framework for her thoughtful analysis of these books
may be applied in a wider context.
While topics discussed are diverse, groupings under
various headings give coherence to the whole volume.
Two considerations of Joan of Arc dovetail excellently.
Isabelle Nières-Chevrel maintains that Maurice Boutet de
Monvel’s Jeanne d’Arc is above ideological appropriation;
in doing so she provides an interpretation of Boutet de
Monvel’s pictures and a discussion about what informed
a 19th-century illustrator’s depiction of a 15th-century
war. In ‘Reinventing the Maid…’ Penny Brown looks at
accounts of Joan’s life told by French and English writers,
concluding that, despite political and cultural differences
between the authors, Joan’s embodiment of ‘Devoir,
Patrie, Humanité’ is universally symbolic, thus providing
a role-model for young citizens.
How ‘cherished national narratives are challenged’
is also teased out by Celia keenan who discusses a
number of recent books by Irish and British writers
centred on the 19th-century Irish famine, concluding
that in writing about such a troubled period in a
country’s history authors may have to confront deeply
embedded stereotypical images. And visual images
are the topic for Clare Bradford who gives the reader
occasion to think about how bias may be implicit in
visual texts depicting Australian history.
Predictably, cultural ideology and historicism
pervade this volume. Historical fiction is to the fore,
but fantasy is also here, as in Junko Yoshida’s piece on
‘Masculine Mystique’ in The Earthsea Quartet, and
readers will readily engage with Tony Watkins’s
reflections on Dan Dare and The Eagle comic.
The one longer article in this collection is Jean
Perrot’s provocative ‘Afterword’, where he pleads for
a reconstructed international approach to the study of
children’s literature, in particular one which takes in
new media. Perrot challenges what he perceives as
distorted approaches to children’s literature criticism,
including over reliance on ‘political correctness’ in
analyses of children’s books, which may blind critics
to other qualities in a text.
IRSCL congresses present cutting-edge thinking in the
field of children’s literature studies, but this volume is
not only for the scholar; much of what it contains will
appeal to a wide audience, especially students.