International Children's Literature

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International Children's Literature


Examples of the distinct social, political, and cultural influences found in the children's literature of different geopolitical regions.


Throughout history, literature has often served as a cultural foundation that can unite communities and bind them together in nationhood. At its best, it can offer a bridge between foreign populations and work to encourage understanding between disparate groups and social classes. These aspects are particularly true in regards to international children's literature, given its simplicity of both language and message as well as its potential influence over impressionable readers. Primarily, children's literature is used as an educational resource, intended to initiate children into normative social acclimatization. However, at the same time, it can be used as a tool to indoctrinate children into a cultural hegemony, as demonstrated by several state-sponsored philosophies which have employed this strategy in the past. In her overview of children's literature, scholar Sheila Ray has suggested that the development of children's literature within a society often follows a standard pattern of advancement. When a culture reaches a certain maturity, the creation of written texts arises as a natural facet of societal evolution. The children within these cultures independently gravitate towards select works that hold some core appeal for their own distinct needs and then appropriate these stories for themselves. Typically, the adult-oriented books most likely to draw their interest are the simpler forms of fairy tale and rhyme. While today we associate fairy tales almost exclusively with child readers, at their beginning, they were created more as a reflection of regional mythology passed along through the oral tradition. However, as their subject matter often drifts into the magical and the fantastic, they tend to be a perfect match for the young mind. As a result, fairy tale books such as Kinder- und Hausmärchen (1812; German Popular Stories) by the Brothers Grimm were among the first popular releases for children in any publishing market.

Today, children's literature is undergoing a new marked evolution toward globalization, where literary works can bypass borders with greater ease, influence one another, and create cross-pollinated cultural legacies that, for the first time, can legitimately be conceived of as truly international children's literature. Additionally, the simpler nature of children's literature—in terms of more basic language and easier conceptual plots—has, in many cases, made them more translatable than their adult counterparts, as demonstrated by such early internationally popular and frequently translated works as Daniel Defoe's juvenile adventure tale Robinson Crusoe (1719) or Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726).

However, while certain narratives have been deemed more internationally universal thanks to their broad themes and characters, other works of children's literature are much more ideologically specific, due to the geopolitical atmosphere of their countries of origin. In the twentieth century, ideological objectives have driven the evolution of many period and cultural literatures—children's works supporting apartheid, communism, and totalitarianism have been some of the darker examples of this sort of subtle manipulation. In South Africa, for example, the development of children's literature has been in the crosshairs of a forced amalgam of several cultures such as Afrikaners, Indians, Zulus, Khoisan, and other ethnic groups. Early South African children's books often documented the mythology of the native peoples, however, some critics have charged that these compilations were unflattering in both their methodology and intent. Similarly, the various political administrations of communist China and the former East Germany have attempted to use children's literature as a means of facilitating and directing propagandist directives. In 1979 Chinese party leader Deng Xiaoping issued the proclamation that all literature, including children's literature, "should revive and carry forward the revolutionary traditions of our Party and people, cultivate fine morals and customs, and contribute to the building of a socialist civilization with a high cultural and ideological level." Specifically, Lu Bing, a Marxist theoretician for the government, dictated that children's books "must educate the new generation to develop morally, intellectually and physically and train a vital new force for the four modernizations. In this new period, children's literature should focus on Communist ideological and moral education, science educa-tion and democracy education." Yet, while still carefully administered, children's literature in the post-Mao Tsedong period actually marked a progression of sorts over earlier communist ideologues who had relied heavily on overt censorship as well as a lack of tolerance for individualist goals in their influence of young minds. Normative literature in this restrictive era was typified by a series of books that demonstrated children abandoning the "misguided" practices of pre-communist China to embrace more accepted ideology that was meant to advance nationalism and a singularity of opinion. In the last thirty years, China's children's literature has begun to see some of its harsh ideological influences soften as a gentle easement of national policy has allowed for a greater acceptance of China's storied past. In this newer climate, books like the popular 365 Ye Gushi (1986; Stories for 365 Nights), edited by Lu Bing, have become enormously popular, as evidenced by its estimated sales figures of 4.3 million copies. While still maintaining the belief that a correct standard of moral living is essential to children's literature, China's manifest political machinations have been largely eliminated in favor of more abstract analogues.

The development of children's literature in other geographical regions has offered some additionally surprising social benefits. For example, several endangered languages within the United Kingdom have been preserved through the release of unique juvenile texts published solely in these fading languages, such as Brian Stowell's Manx-language picture book Gaelg Trooid Jallooghyn: Manx through Pictures (1968). Ireland has also encouraged the publication of more Gaelic-language children's books in a concerted effort to reintroduce the native language to a new generation of readers. Robert Dunbar has suggested that this revival of Irish-language children's literature has caused "a remarkable development in recent years, during which it has become linked with wider political, educational, and ideological discussions about the place of the Irish language in today's Ireland." Furthermore, in at least one case, children's literature has even helped in the creation of a new language. The nomadic Hmong people are almost unique in contemporary society in their lack of a written language. Displaced from their homeland in Southeast Asia, they have recently benefited from programs that utilize children's books penned in newly established writing systems to teach its members how to read their native tongue. For the first time, children's literature will be the foundation of a cultural literature, rather than a byproduct. Critics such as Rosie Webb Joels have also argued that children's literature holds the potential to foster internationalism and global understanding through translations of works passed between cultures, thus exposing young readers to events and customs around the world, perhaps even promoting tolerance. In particular, she cites The Boys of St. Petri (1991) by Danish author Bjarne Reuter and the iconic Het Achterhuis (1947; Diary of a Young Girl) by Dutch Holocaust victim Anne Frank as examples of books that can dramatically alter a child's perceptions of the world. But perhaps, most of all, international children's books act as a gateway, offering readers the chance to immerse themselves in the written word of their own language. In the words of Sheila Ray, "at the end of the twentieth century, there is a belief that literacy is essential. Even in those societies where information technology is advanced, good reading skills are essential to exploit it, and it is generally thought that the best way to acquire fluency is through reading practice; children's books are thus a necessity."


Dora Alonso (Cuba)

Las aventuras de Guille (juvenile fiction) 1964

Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff (France)

Histoire de Babar (juvenile fiction) 1931

Le Voyage de Babar (juvenile fiction) 1932

Mary Carbery (Ireland)

The Farm by Lough Gur (juvenile fiction) 1937

Chu Zhixiang (China)

Heimao Jingzhang Xinzhuan (young adult novel) 1988

Manuel Coatales (Cuba)

Libro de lectura para niños (children's primer) 1846

John Amos Comenius (Czech Republic)

Orbis Sensualium Pictus (picture book) 1658

Margrit Cruickshank (Ireland)

Circling the Triangle (juvenile fiction) 1991

Ada María Elflein (Argentina)

Leyendas Argentinas (fairy tales) 1906

Spyros Epaminondas (Cyprus)

The Wasp Nest and Other Stories (juvenile fiction) 1976

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (Germany)

Kinder- und Hausmärchen. 2 vols. (fairy tales) 1812–1815; translated by Edgar Taylor as German Popular Stories: Translated from the Kinder- und Hausmärchen, 1823–1826

Joaquín Gutiérrez (Costa Rica)

Cocorí (juvenile fiction) 1947

Rosa Guy (Trinidad and Tobago)

The Friends (juvenile fiction) 1974

Paris, Pee Wee, and Big Dog (juvenile fiction) 1984

Peter Hacks (East Germany)

Meta Morfoß (juvenile fiction) 1975

Heinrich Hoffman (Germany)

Struwwelpeter [Slovenly Peter, or, Cheerful Stories and Funny Pictures for Good Little Folks] (juvenile fiction) 1845

Jin Bo, Jin Jiang, and Fan Fajia, editors (China)

Zhongguo Ertongwenxue Zuojia Chengmingzuo, Tongshi, Yuyan, Sanwenxuan [The Best of Chinese Children's Literature, Poems, Fables, and Essays] (juvenile collection) 1996

Ju Ping, editor (China)

Xiaomaomimi Guo Shengri, Juping Gei Baobao Jiang Gushi [A Kitten's Birthday, Ju Ping Tells Stories to Children] (juvenile collection) 1994

Uwe Kant (East Germany)

Das Klassenfest (juvenile fiction) 1969

B. L. Leshoai (South Africa)

Iso le Nkhono: African Fairy Tales for Children (fairy tales) 1983

Anne Marie Linden (Barbados)

Emerald Blue (juvenile fiction) 1994

Lu Bing, editor (China)

365 Ye Gushi [Stories for 365 Nights] (juvenile fiction) 1986

Nombulelo Makhuphula (South Africa)

Xhosa Fireside Tales (fairy tales) 1988

Rafael Rivero Oramas (Venezuela)

La danta blanca (juvenile fiction) 1965

El mundo de Tío Conejo (juvenile fiction) 1973

Marcela Paz (Chile)

Papelucho (juvenile fiction) 1947

Indi Rana (India)

Devil in the Dustbin [illustrations by M. Padmanabhan] (juvenile fiction) 1989

Ludwig Renn (East Germany)

Trini (juvenile fiction) 1954

Wolf Spillner (East Germany)

Die Wasseramsel (juvenile fiction) 1984

Erwin Strittmatter (East Germany)

Tinko (juvenile fiction) 1954

María Elena Walsh (Argentina)

Tutú Marambá (juvenile fiction) 1960

El reino del revés (juvenile fiction) 1964

Zoo loco (juvenile fiction) 1964

Cuentopos de Gulubú (juvenile fiction) 1966

Alfred Wellm (East Germany)

Karlchen Duckdich (juvenile fiction) 1977


Sheila Ray (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: Ray, Sheila, "The World of International Children's Literature: An Introduction." In International Companion Encyclopedia of Children"s Literature, edited by Peter Hunt, pp. 653-62. London, England: Routledge, 1996.

[In the following essay, Ray offers a comprehensive overview of how children's literature has developed within several specific international cultures, commenting that "[t]he development of children's literature everywhere has followed a similar pattern, although in individual countries the stages in this development have come at different times in the last five hundred years."]

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Jane Parish Yang (essay date 1998)

SOURCE: Yang, Jane Parish. "A Change in the Family: The Image of Family in Contemporary Chinese Children's Literature, 1949–1993." Children's Literature 26 (1998): 86-104.

[In the following essay, Yang argues that—between 1949 and 1993—Chinese children's literature portrayed the family as "an entity lacking in moral authority," which worked in favor of the "communist ideology" of China's political leaders.]

For the past two months, a most unforgettable event has been coursing through my brain. At nights before I sleep or in mornings when I have just awakened, this event clearly unfolds before my eyes like a scroll painting. It seems as if I can still feel the crisp air in my nostrils, so cold and sharp, and the moonlight flooding over my head, still so radiant and luminous. My hand, which Father had grasped tightly, still surges with warmth; my face still benumbed by Mother's icy tears! I have often told them both: "I will never forget that night." Mother then hugs me closely: "My child, I hope you will remember this forever."

And what was it? That night two months ago, on the night of January thirteenth, when Father and Mother took me to Tiananmen Square to mourn our beloved Premier Zhou in front of the Monument to the People's Heroes.

           —Bing Xin, "Ji Yijian Zui Nanwang de Shiqing [Recalling a Most Memorable Event]" (1977)

The quotation in the epigraph, from one of China's most famous modern writers, depicts a warm family relationship between parents and child connected to a larger political cause: the then-dangerous expression of support for moderation during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). From the thirteenth century on, how family and state relate to each other had been a central concern of Neo-Confucian philosophical and political teachings. Writings from the time of Confucius and Mencius, The Four Books, were annotated and explicated by the Neo-Confucian Chu Hsi (1130–1200), and were made the state-sanctioned texts for education in all of China. It was not the Neo-Confucians who first spoke of the family-state relationship, however, as noted historian Donald Munro states: "To consider the government an extension of family relationships was a policy of Chou [1122-256 B.C.] feudalism" (46). Munro asserts that Chu Hsi and the Neo-Confucians merely tried to reconcile the "potential incompatibility between family-centered role fulfillment and duty to the public" (113).1

Proper relations among family members and between the family and the state were a central concern in these ethical teachings of Confucius: an individual was first and foremost a member of a family group, with duties and obligations to that group. Familial roles, especially the duties of the male side—father, elder brother, son—were specifically a part of these teachings. Only after one's duty to the family was fulfilled was one capable of serving the larger entity beyond the family: the state. The two roles were interconnected in Neo-Confucian thought, with reciprocal obligations for each, but serving the family was seen as a prerequisite to serving the state. In fact, service to the state could be a means of empowering and enriching a family, and so service to the state often was subverted to the particular interests of the family.

Neo-Confucians taught that one who was filial, that is, who carried out the proper role of a son, would not offend a superior. Likewise, it was thought that one who was fraternal, that is, who carried out the proper role of a brother, would know his correct role in regard to superiors. It was assumed that having learned proper behavior at home, one would know how to relate to superiors and inferiors in the wider realm outside the family. Yet even so, one's primary loyalty and interest lay with the family. The collective good of society was a secondary consideration in this family-centered ethical system.

A change in values came with the advent of communist ideology, which influenced Chinese writings from the first part of the twentieth century. In the communist view, the interests of the individual, as well as of the family unit, were subsumed by the interests of society as a whole. The literary expression of communist ideology, socialist realism, allowed for no negative or vacillating characters in fact or fiction—only positive, exemplary ones, who would carry the Revolution to its inevitable victory. Such a didactic approach in which literature serves larger social and political goals is common in children's literature and dates to the beginning of Chinese literary writings?2 But some writers of the pre-Revolutionary period, obviously struggling with the dictates of socialist realism, tended more toward naturalism and included negative, individualistic, or vacillating characters who did not support collective goals. After the communist victory in 1949, fiction of this latter type all but disappeared for perhaps forty years. Only in more recent times has depiction of negative, uncooperative individuals (and families) been allowed.

Since the family-state relationship is political, depiction of the family in contemporary Chinese literature has not been static but has changed according to political needs. The change in the image of the family in contemporary Chinese children's literature, the focus of this study, can be divided into four distinct phases: the post-revolutionary period up to the Cultural Revolution (1949–1966), the ten-year-long Cultural Revolution period (1966–76), the immediate post-Cultural Revolution period (1976–1985), and the contemporary period (late 1985–1993).3

Post-Revolutionary Period (1949–1966)

Early post-1949 fiction attributed family support for the new collective system to the concrete benefits of socialism. This fiction showed how families adapted to and accepted socialism. Socialist values were shown to bolster the family, not conflict with its interests. Indeed, it was the older generation's individualistic and feudalistic ideas that were shown to have hindered family progress. For example, in the 1957 story by Miao Ge "Jin Yin Dong," new ways of treating peasants in the socialist society allow the family to flourish. A grandfather, able to borrow money from the cooperative credit union for his grandson's marriage, is won over to the new socialist state and ceases to believe in the old superstitious ways of getting wealthy.

Similarly, in a 1964 story, Sun Jibin's "Jiejie," state and family purposes blend in joint hatred of the "imperialists." At the end of the story even the meaning of family has been blurred. When the elder sister is killed by imperialists, a substitute sister, orphaned in the same attack, is welcomed into the family. It is she who states the new creed: "Your mother is my mother; your sister is my sister" (31).4 The meaning of family has thus widened to include those who have undergone similar experiences and who share hatred of the same enemy.

Proper social behavior in the new society, less selfish and more cooperative, was stressed in another 1957 story, Yang Meiqing's "Women Sange." When a young man decides to mend his ways and work with, not against, a classmate, his first thought is to have this newfound friend and helper over for dinner. He will ask his mother to fry some eggs, probably an expensive dish in China at that time. The family unit is depicted as celebrating his newfound devotion to the wider community. Indeed, in contrast with some later stories discussed below, it is often the mother in these stories who cooperates with the schoolteacher, the usual agent of social change, to alter a child's behavior.

In summary, then, fiction for children in the period from 1949 through 1966 did not posit a conflict of interest between the family and the state; it tried to encourage the family to support the new social system by pointing out real benefits for the family and the individual under socialism.

Cultural Revolution Period (1966–1976)

During the second stage, the Cultural Revolution (a period known in China as the ten years of chaos), children's literature was virtually destroyed. Publication of storybooks ceased between 1967 and 1970.5 What was published after 1970 came from the radical Shanghai People's Publishing House and consisted of picture books, most of which showed children as diligent supporters of Red Guard initiatives and Mao's thought. Children's publications from this state-run publishing house rarely depicted family life, paralleling the absence of the family in school textbooks.6 Roberta Martin makes the following observation after reviewing textbooks from the period: "It appears that the Chinese Government has attempted to weaken the image (and ultimately the role) of the family in an effort to diminish its socializing influence, while simultaneously enhancing the image of certain peer group units in an effort to shape the norms and values which the groups project and thereby to regulate their socializing influence" (253). In place of the family readers saw peer groups at school or in the state-run day care centers where the young spent the majority of their waking hours. The child is shown as interacting with peers and teachers and taking her values from the peer group. Her primary duty is service to the state, not the family. Children are self-conscious little ideologists fighting against social injustice, exposing public enemies of socialism, upholding the thoughts of Chairman Mao, and placing the state above all other loyalties.

Almost all role models in literature published during the Cultural Revolution were positive, exemplary ones. Children exercise not just for their own pleasure but in order to be soldiers in the revolutionary struggles on behalf of the proletariat. This theme of self-strengthening for a higher purpose, common in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century children's literature in the West, predominated in China in the twentieth century, reflecting the nationalist sentiment that future generations must be prepared for the rigors of protecting the nation. Even preschoolers on a playground slide supposedly are exercising in order to improve their bodies on behalf of the Revolution. Little children bouncing balls and counting the number of bounces similarly are not motivated by personal amusement or ambition: they are practicing "revolutionary will."7

This notion of the child existing for a cause beyond herself is not new, nor is it peculiar to communist ideology. The child-socialization process in general can be seen as a way to wrest control of the child's body away from the child herself and enlist it in a higher cause—for the family, clan, community, or state. But in this epoch control of the child was so pervasive and rigid that it goes well beyond any previous attempts at socialization, which typically built on family relationships, rather than trying to destroy them. There is no mention in this literature of family relationships or connections, nor any depiction of the child in a relationship other than with peers. The child is depicted as directly linked to the state and in tune with its revolutionary goals. Not surprisingly, symbols of the Cultural Revolution era abound in these stories. For example, in San Jian Maoxianyi a little girl praises the talents of classmates who can build models of Tiananmen (the Gate of Heavenly Peace, where Mao stood to review parades) or draw a red star (the symbol of the Red Army). Her unselfish behavior toward these classmates is commended as being in the spirit of Lei Feng, the paragon of virtue praised during the Cultural Revolution (and recently resurrected). The children are thus praised to the extent that they identify with state symbols and ideals.

The most graphic depiction of children transferring their loyalties from the family to the state comes in Hong Xiaobing Nupi Shentong Shi. A group of children probably no older than seven or eight meets in periodic study sessions on Marxist-Leninist thought, where they try to devise concrete ways to carry out class struggle. When the grandfather of a classmate orders his grandson to copy some reactionary verse, the grandson's classmates encourage him to disobey?8

The grandson talks back to him, tattles on him to his teacher, and humiliates him in an open session convened to expose and criticize public enemies. The child stands solidly against his family when family values are closely scrutinized and found to be in conflict with values taught in the schools.

Literature from the Cultural Revolution period shows young children in a state-controlled setting interacting with peers, not family. They are shown as caring and concerned when members of their peer group are in need, but self-righteously vindictive and unmerciful against opponents of the revolutionary ideology they profess—including family members who represent the old ways and the old ideology. They do not have to wrestle with the moral dilemma of turning against their families; for them there is no dilemma. The moral authority of elders is eroded if not completely gone, and the family hierarchy has been turned on its head. It is now the young who lecture their elders on proper conduct in this new age. Privy to the new wisdom, the young have a duty to see that their elders follow the correct path, Children, with their new peer groups, uphold state ideology against the parochial interests of the family.

Fiction for older children in this period was less simplistic and more nuanced. It often continued in the same vein as pre-Cultural Revolution stories to show the family as supporting collective work and goals and opposing individual, selfish gain at group expense. For example, in Xin Le's "Cai Luo" (1973), the culprit is an obstinate individual who cannot see beyond his own personal benefit to the benefit of the whole group. Two young children whose father and brother are party cadres take the lead in upholding the collective's rules against individuals' netting fish during spawning time. One child says dramatically: "We've held a family meeting. Dad and Elder Brother have both given their opinions. Cadre must be the first to uphold revolutionary regulations. Family members must also guarantee impartiality. All of us can do this, including my sister and me. We can even guarantee that our dog Spottie won't ever harm the government's interest. Give me the muzzle" (82). The child proceeds to muzzle the family dog to make sure it doesn't steal food from the collective.

During the Cultural Revolution period, if an individual family was portrayed at all, it demonstrated firm support for collective goals as against the opportunism of those who did not heed the call of socialism. Interestingly, the traditional power holders of the patriarchal family, the father and the eldest brother, are still shown as exercising power in the family during the Cultural Revolution.

Immediate Post-Cultural Revolution Period (1976–1985)

In the third period, the immediate post-Cultural Revolution era of the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, less militaristic and dogmatic stories were offered to the young reading public. In contrast to the lack of family scenes and interactions in the Cultural Revolution period, the stories of this period again brought the family back to the center of concern. The suffering of the family as a unit during that ten-year period (unnamed but very obvious) is often depicted, as in Kang Fukun's "Xiao Xiang Nunu," a 1978 fable exposing the hardships families faced, including separation of family members or death at the hands of evildoers.9 Perhaps in recognition of hardships suffered, authors of this period treat the family in quite a favorable light. As the government's standing suffers, the reputation of families seems to rebound.

Along with this graphic depiction of past suffering the stories display a recognition that the family must support collective goals in order to survive and prosper. The enticement of becoming wealthier begins to figure prominently in such stories as Yang Xiao's 1980 "Yeye Dangxuanle Fuye Duizhang." The grandmother in this story, whose family had suffered hardship during the Cultural Revolution because of her husband's "capitalist road" policies, becomes convinced that her own village can now prosper like a neighboring village, and she comes to see that active political involvement in the community can bring prosperity, not ruin, to the family.

Yang's story, part of the "Scar Literature" that detailed the sufferings of the people during the Cultural Revolution, attempts to reconcile the conflicting demands of family and community, as well as to erase doubt about the future direction of the country.10 The grandmother also gives voice to a persistent fear during this period: that government policy will change once again and the family will be punished for being on the wrong side politically. She is assured that this is not possible in the new political climate. The very fact that such a sensitive issue could be discussed in this fiction shows the great change in government policy of this era.

Niaore Ertu's "Qicha Jijiao de Gonglu," remarkable for its Faulkner-esque setting in the wilderness, seems to dismiss the conflict between family and state as irrelevant. Instead, it places the individual in the wider context of the natural world, where human beings are but small and rather insignificant players. A rare example of minority literature in a Han Chinese-dominated literary world, this story from the Evenki (Solon) nationality in Heilongjiang Province depicts a young man's confrontation with his stepfather as he grows into manhood in the primitive hunting culture of the northern steppes. The older man compares his stepson to a lazy domesticated animal: "You're like a cat, staying inside the tent all day, letting me take care of you" (333).

Though he has three chances to shoot a seven-point buck that he had promised to bring back to his stepfather, the young man has come to admire the buck's courage in fighting for its survival against its natural enemies and thus refuses to kill it. For this he is beaten. In the end, the stepfather, having watched his stepson's attempts to free the buck from wolves and from a trap, recognizes that allowing the buck to live was the right decision.

Both men subordinate their own survival and that of their "family" to preservation of this symbol of freedom and courage. The stepfather recognizes, as the young man earlier learned, that there is some higher value beyond the individual, something unnamed but obviously not simply the community or state: nature itself. The buck comes to symbolize beauty, strength, and the stubborn will to survive in an often harsh environment. Through his observation of his stepson's struggle to save the buck, the stepfather, an alcoholic, also comes to acknowledge his obligation to care for his stepson.

The stepson's three encounters with the buck alternate with recurring dreams of deer and wild swans, which seem to serve as symbols of freedom to the young man caught in an unhappy family situation. He is also haunted by a dream of the buck being butchered. His fear of his stepfather gradually disappears as he discovers freedom, ease, and a sense of belonging in the woods while tracking the deer. The beauty of the landscape is described in loving detail whenever the buck is encountered: the tall mountain peak covered with pine and birch, the golden leaves shimmering in the sunlight against the white birchbark. He likens the mountain peak to a proud giant with pine woods and sheer cliffs clinging to its shoulders. He feels no fear or strangeness in the wilderness, since it is the source of everything on which his tribe depends. In the protective embrace of the forest, he states: "I forgot I was an orphan who had lost my parents" (335).

The raw primitivism of the story and the stark depiction of a dysfunctional family are an anomaly among the Han Chinese stories of functional family relationships in densely populated urban settings. The story's careful attention to lyrical detail, and its evocation of the wilderness's beauty and its hidden terrors, stands in stark contrast to the neglect of nuance, shade, and craft common in other stories written in this period. Yet a comic structure is maintained in this story, as in others of this period, in that the individual is reintegrated into the family or community at the end of the narrative.

Family support of legitimate state ideals is highlighted in many of these stories. Families are emotionally involved with the fate of the state and even willing to take a political stand in public. The family's willingness to act in this manner indicates that family and state ideals need not always conflict. For example, in Bing Xin's story "Ji Yijian Zui Nanwang de Shiqing" a family is shown reacting emotionally to the news of Zhou Enlai's death in January 1976. Family members are willing to brave both the harsh winter weather and the wrath of the Gang of Four regime to gather in Tiananmen Square for a memorial tribute to Chou. The contrast between the warmth of the people's response to Zhou's death and the indifferent official state is especially acute. This story by the venerable modern writer Bing Xin pointedly was placed first in Jin Jin's 1986 Anthology of New Chinese Literature, 1976–1982: Collection of Children's Literature, as if to underscore the idea that the family can be a morally responsive entity in the state.

In fact, in literature of the late 1970s support for the state or the community was often depicted as derived from the positive values of the family. When one reached beyond the family unit to help a stranger, it was the image of the welcoming warmth of home that led one to recognize the needs of the wider social group. In "Yilu Lihua" by Peng Jingfeng, a laborer returning from a hard day's work in the mountains is motivated to rebuild and refurbish a mountain hut for others to use after he himself has gratefully used it as a way station on a trip home. In detailing the laborer's pleasant images of the hut as a place like home, providing food and warm shelter from the harsh weather, the story shows his increasing awareness that each person has an obligation to others to make "way stations" for their journeys through life.

A 1979 story, "Chi Tuolaji de Gushi" by Luo Chensheng, shows a young child sacrificing his family's newly bought fish to cover up for the greed of an of-ficious visiting party cadre in the hope that the village will benefit from this relationship. The deed is exposed by an impetuous young child who can't tolerate the injustice and corruption he sees. Naturally, it is his appeal to an evenhanded and fair higher-level cadre that saves the day. The story is remarkable for showing the family as willing to make sacrifices in order to benefit the larger group.

In a third story, Wang Anyi's "Shei Shi Weilaide Zhongdui Zhang," father and son vent their hatred of "squealers" in the factory and at school—those who toady to authorities by reporting on the minor transgressions of others. The father and son vow to get even in the next election of officers. Thus the family is shown in a positive light, taking action against those who abuse power and position or whose judgment is faulty.11 This is also one of the few children's stories that show a father interacting with his child.

In these stories the family is depicted as supportive of true socialism and courageous enough to fight against corrupt party cadres and leftist extremists. At the time when leftists were discredited in post-Cultural Revolution fiction, the family regained favor as a morally legitimate unit. This is perhaps because other institutions in Chinese society—the state and entities representing the state—were too closely tied to discredited policies. Only the family emerged relatively unscathed.

The Contemporary Period (1985–1993)

Post-Cultural Revolution publications continued to depict some children as the catalysts for socialist change in society, although without the self-righteous fervor of the Cultural Revolution period. Writers praised children who strove toward independence and personal autonomy. Some were depicted as goal-oriented self-starters whose curiosity and intelligence propelled them to pursue interests outside the family circle. Family members (often the mother) who tried to prevent this independence were described in unflattering terms. Children were also depicted as trying to be independent in order to lessen the burden on hard-working parents. The authors of these stories clearly differentiated between selfish behavior beneficial only to the child and independent behavior meant to help the family or some larger social unit.

At the same time, children in stories of this period were not depicted as overly good. The editors of an early 1980s collection stated opposition to fictional perfect children who resembled model "little adults."12 Although some children in the late-1970s stories did display heroism—protecting family friends from leftist extremists, or protecting the interest of the collective against selfish individuals, or showing a teacher the error of her ways in dealing with her students—other stories showed average children mending their ways, changing into self-disciplined, more cooperative students.13 As the reputation of the government was restored after the Cultural Revolution, authors were once again able to focus on the contemporary family and its faults. In the period immediately after the Cultural Revolution, the focus had been on government shortcomings and the people's "scars." Now family scars could be exposed once again.

In publications appearing at the end of the 1980s, the contemporary family is overwhelmingly portrayed as a one-child urban family, in contrast to the prevalence of rural settings during the Cultural Revolution. There was a shift from lauding peasants with revolutionary values to promoting population control in urban centers. In picture books, a family portrait usually shows at most four members: two parents, one child, and one grandmother. In a few stories both grandparents are present; in others both are absent. Only in animal fables or stories set in premodern China are there siblings. Although the terms for older and younger brother and sister are introduced in a widely disseminated elementary picture book for teaching simple Chinese characters,14 in only two instances in the picture books I have collected are these terms actually used in stories set in contemporary times.15 Depiction of politically correct one-child families may go hand in hand with a general trend during this period to deemphasize the importance of the family.

The only child is depicted as a lonely child, often shown home alone with a mountain of toys bought by her indulgent, but absent, parents. Without other relatives or siblings at home, social interaction comes only with peers. In "Lanlan Zhao Pengyou" a little girl unwilling to attend preschool is shown home alone with her inanimate toys or silent pets. She finally decides school is preferable to this loneliness and goes off to the preschool to find playmates. It is clear from the story that the child has made a good choice. That her parents have spoiled her, while unstated, is obvious as well.

The suspicion that most people only look out for their family members is gently emphasized in a 1986 story found in the People's Educational Publishing House's text for elementary school students, Yuwen. In the story "Ta shi shei?" a passerby is amazed to see a young lad rushing to help an old lady who had just taken a spill. The passerby reveals an assumption that one only responds when a family member needs help as he asks the boy, "Is she your paternal granny?"

"No." "Is she your maternal granny?" "No." "Who is she then?" "I don't know." The passerby's values are challenged by the unselfish behavior of the young child who is schooled in communal values. In Zhan Dai'er's "Ma Jia de Mama," the story is told from the point of view of a classmate who takes the teacher's seemingly indifferent attitude toward Ma Jia's helpfulness at school as an indication that the teacher dislikes her friend. "Not so," says Ma Jia. "She's my mother!" The classmate is astounded to learn that the mother has deliberately avoided favoring her own child.

Many picture books show spoiled, boorish children unable to perform even the simplest tasks, such as peeling a hard-boiled egg (this is the topic of many jokes), tying their own shoes, holding a spoon by themselves, or using a broom. For example, in "Da Lan Chong Lixian Ji," a little boy, Fatty, will put on his clothes only with Granny's help and needs his father to help him wash his face. In "Wo Pa" a grandmother intervenes to keep her granddaughter from having to help clean up the school grounds by telling the teacher the girl is sick. When the teacher had asked the children to return to the school to do this work, the girl had whined to her granny: "Adults do all the work at home, why do we kids have to do work at school?" The family here thwarts the teacher's attempt to foster social responsibility.

Not surprisingly, celebrations of work, the work ethic, and self-discipline occur often in this literature, usually in cautionary tales in which the wavering, undisciplined child sees the correctness of mending his ways. Because a whole generation of young children has grown up not performing chores at home, due to their elevated status as indulged only children, it is little wonder that another form of literature has appeared: how-to manuals that teach these children basic living skills. Among the useful tasks taught are how to boil rice, buy food in the market, adjust the television, mop the floor, sew a button on, wash a handkerchief, fold clothes, select a watermelon, and mail a letter. The tasks are narrated in such excruciating detail that one is led to believe that the child has had no prior experience in dealing with them.16

Despite the many stories showing lazy, helpless, and overly demanding children ordering their parents about, in some stories the children are depicted sympathetically and as trying to learn to be independent. In one story a little girl, observing that her mother is busy hanging up the laundry, tries to dress herself. When her little friends laugh at her mismatched buttons, she retorts: "I put it on all by myself!"17 Others are portrayed as captives of overly doting mothers or grandmothers (or, rarely, a grandfather) who anticipate the child's every need and whim and do not allow the child to act independently. In the collection of stories Xiao Tao Qir, there are numerous examples of this vigilance. In one clever story, "Wo Xuehuile Zuo Shenme?," a little boy is unable to write a school theme about something he has learned to do at home because his mother does not allow him to do chores. In the end, frustrated in his attempt to boil rice for lunch, he hands the task of writing the theme over to his mother as well.

Two novels for the intermediate primary level written in the mid- to late 1980s show young people striving toward independence and self-autonomy. Kuang Bangyu and Wen Lianghua's Hui Fei de Xiao Pengyou (1986) shows a teacher and a sympathetic outsider who encourage several students to pursue their beekeeping interests, despite objections and obstruction from home. These people outside the family circle intervene at critical times to counter the family's objection, voiced by the mother, that raising bees takes away valuable study time. They offer advice and resources to enable the youths to carry out their plans. Contrast this assistance with what one of the mothers offers: constant nagging about her child's primary duty to study, in the very narrow sense of reading books, which does not include carrying out such real-life experiments as raising bees (21).

Since children are rarely shown interacting with their fathers, it is usually the female characters in these stories who discourage social responsibility and independence. Although women work outside the home, they still tend to prohibit the child's integration into a larger social unit beyond the family. If family members help the child become independent, it is usually the male characters (cousins, uncles, grandfathers) who offer assistance, perhaps because males have always been involved in the wider sphere outside the household.

In the above story, for example, male teachers at school and male government bureaucrats offer help to the young boys who are interested in raising bees. Although the boys voice their support for the state goal of becoming more scientific, the main thrust of the story is their single-minded devotion to the activ-ity despite family (mother's) opposition. The mother figure has changed from a transmitter of positive values, as she was in the Scar Literature, into someone extraneous to the lives of her children. Lacking a positive (male) force to propel him outside the home, the child remains in limbo, captive of the family and unable to make the necessary break.

A 1988 picaresque novel, Heimao Jingzhang Xinzhuan by Chu Zhixiang, details the adventures of an entrepreneur in post-Cultural Revolution China. The author purports to present the heretofore-unknown past of Black Cat before he became the well-known star of pulp cops-and-robbers comic books. His life as a trickster in the service industry who succeeds for a time in fooling the unsuspecting public seems to be the perfect metaphor for the new society in the 1980s: one succeeds by cleverness, staying one step ahead of the masses. Youth need not choose between family and state, since they are devoted to neither, only looking out for themselves.

The tale of Black Cat's early life begins with his school days, omitting any account of his family background. This con artist, after studying a little bit of every sort of trade, sets up a succession of shops—TV Repair, Tailor Shop, Appliance Shop, Photography Studio, Cloud-seeding Service to Farmers—and then becomes a rock star. In each line of work his failures become more colossal and more bizarre until finally he succeeds as a restaurant manager selling rat meat. Despite these earlier setbacks, in the second half of the novel he inexplicably turns into an officer in the Animal Public Security Bureau, aiding the public in ferreting out criminals and con artists not unlike his former self.

In most late-1980s stories, the state is mentioned not at all or only in remarks tacked on at the end of a story. School is the place where social values are taught, and there is great effort to depict the teacher-student relationship in positive terms. With the shift in the late 1980s to depicting parents and the family as obstacles to independent, socially responsible youth, the positive image of the teacher has been resurrected. It is still questionable, however, whether the social values transmitted to the student are acted on outside of school.18 In many stories the family and the child are concerned with immediate, individual goals: study hard and win a place in an institution of higher education, or work hard as an individual on the make and concrete benefits will accrue. For example, in the children's poem by Lou Feifu "Gege Ji," the granny's sideline of raising chickens in the small courtyard and selling their eggs brings immediate material benefit to the family. The poem extols the new television set and air conditioner, all bought with funds from granny's new occupation. Her enjoyment comes from hearing the hens cluck each time they lay an egg: "They cluck so much that Granny chuckles" (1).

Literature for children in postwar China has always reflected adult concerns and public policy issues, and the past two decades are no exception. In the 1970s the focus was on the state concern of forwarding the revolution toward socialism. Thus the individual was depicted in positive terms to the extent that he or she supported the new social system. The explicit revolutionary ideology prevalent in those times has all but disappeared, replaced ten or more years later with issues of personal conduct, such as being unselfish and socially responsible to one's family and community. These ideas are not completely incompatible with the 1970s slogan "Serve the people"; the difference is one of emphasis and degree. What writers attacked in the 1980s was not explicit reactionary ideology but the selfish individualism exhibited by some children and at times encouraged by their families.19

In many stories, examples of undesirable or negative behavior outnumber examples of desirable, positive behavior. The Chinese family is presented as an entity lacking in moral authority, incapable of truly carrying out national goals such as the Four Modernizations, which in the 1980s aimed to propel China into the forefront of the industrialized nations by upgrading agricultural and industrial infrastructure. In these stories the family is criticized, if not undermined. The family is shown in general as undisciplined in the training of its young, who are largely irresponsible in the social sphere. Thus in many cases children must look for assistance to parent substitutes outside the family. These role models, usually found in educational institutions, are not tied to the parochial concerns of the family. This, then, may be the ultimate legacy of the Cultural Revolution: the family, discredited during those ten years, has once again been discounted as a dependable institution for working toward the larger goals of the state.


1. See Munro's "Two Polarities and Their Modern Legacy: The Moral Sense and Its Content," 192-232, especially "Family" (221-27) and "Public Love" (227-30).

2. See James J. Y. Liu, Chinese Theories of Literature, 106-16. Liu terms this approach "pragmatic" rather than didactic.

3. My collection of literature concentrates on preschool through upper primary grades, approximately age one through ten or eleven. I have examined around two hundred examples of picture books and about fifty short stories published in China from the 1950s through 1993. I include in this broad category preschool texts for learning to count and to do other practical skills; mother-child texts for ages one to six; etiquette handbooks; how-to texts for elementary schoolchildren; translations of Western fairy tales; one-minute bedtime storybooks; Chinese legends; modern age-appropriate picture books; character-learning texts; and two anthologies of intermediate-level fiction. Publishing houses in the following areas are represented with one or more books: the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin; and the provinces of Heilongjiang, Hebei, Henan, Jiangsu, Guangxi, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Zhejiang. Note that until the early 1990s there were no legal private publishing houses in China since all publishing was state-run, whether in national publishing houses as in Beijing and Shanghai or in provincial publishing houses as in virtually every province. Some major cities, such as Tianjin, have their own publishing houses as well. The content of the published material seems to be a state-sanctioned view of what society is or ought to be like.

4. See Zhong Kuanhong, "Luo Na de Ming Zhu (Luo Na's bright jewel)," Yunnan Ertong Wenxue Xuan, 14-23. In this story a lonely little girl away from home in a summer camp, seeing a portrait of Chairman Mao on the wall, calls out, "Chairman Mao, our close relative!" as she clutches the clothes her mother made for her.

5. Parris H. Chang, "Children's Literature and Political Socialization," 243.

6. For information on textbooks in China, see Roberta Martin, "The Socialization of Children in China and Taiwan," 243-50.

7. Da Jia La Duan Lian (Everybody come exercise).

8. Only twelve years earlier, a 1964–66 science series had presented the grandfather as a "proverbial figure of wisdom." See Frank Swetz, "Children's Picture Books in the People's Republic of China," 11.

9. See also Lu Fei (1979), "Ding Ning."

10. In 1985 the Scar Literature (or Wounded Literature) of the late 1970s and early 1980s was officially accepted by the Fourth Writers Congress. See Gayle Feldman, "The Organization of Publishing in China," 524. For more examples of this literature, see Perry Link (ed.), Stubborn Weeds (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983); Lee Yee (ed.), The New Realism (New York: Hippocrene, 1983); and Michael Duke, Blooming and Contending: Chinese Literature in the Post-Mao Era (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985).

11. For another story depicting a teacher's erroneous judgment, see Qiu Xun, "Sanse Yuanzhubi."

12. Jin Jin, "Introduction," Zhongguo Xin Wenyi Da Xi, 3.

13. Cui Ping, "Bai Yan" (44-49); Luo Chensheng, "Chi Tuolaji de Gushi" (59-64); Liu Houming, "Hong Ye Shuqian" (10-14); Hu Qi, "Lao Yumi" (24-27); Liu Xinwu, "Kanbujian de Pengyou" (27-31); and Luo Chensheng, "Bai Bozi" (82-88); all in Jin Jin, ed., Zhongguo Xin Wenyi Da Xi.

14. Kantu Shizi (Look at the picture, recognize the character), 1:21.

15. Both are in Jiao Baobao (Teaching Precious), 1:22.

16. See Xiao Xuesheng Shenghuo Zili Changshi Zhidao (Guide to everyday knowledge of daily living for primary school students).

17. Jiao Baobao (Teaching Precious), 3:3-4.

18. Attitudes toward teachers have changed over the past forty years. During the Cultural Revolution, teachers were often criticized as being upholders of the discredited traditional culture. In the literature, see, e.g., Lu Fei, in Jin Jin, ed., Zhongguo Xin Wenyi Da Xi, 78-82. For further analysis, see Richard Solomon, "Educational Themes in China's Changing Culture."

19. An interesting example of making the past learn from the present is in the way the legend of Kua Fu was presented in the 1986 collection Zhongguo Shenhua, Tonghua Gushi Xuan (19-21). The original legend presents the individual exploits of Kua Fu in his quest to race the sun. As it is presented in this new version, Kua Fu's goal is not individual glory but rather the well-being of the community: he seeks to capture the warmth of the sun after being encouraged by the elders of the community.

19. I would like to thank Gervais Reed, Frank Doeringer, and Daniel Taylor, Lawrence University, for their helpful comments and careful editing. I would also like to thank Suzanne Gay and Paula Richman, Oberlin College, for their comments on an earlier version of this chapter, as well as its three anonymous reviewers.

Works Cited and Consulted

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Chu Zhixiang. Heimao Jingzhang Xinzhuan (New biography of Police Officer Black Cat). Kunming: Yunnan Juvenile and Children's Publishing House, 1988.

Cui Ping. "Bai Yan (Bai Yan)." Jin 44-49.

Da Jia Lai Duan Lian (Everybody come exercise). Shanghai: Shanghai People's Publishing House, 1974.

"Da Lan Chong Lixian Ji (The adventures of the big lazy bug)." Zhongguo Shenhua Tonghua Gushi Xuan. 1: 54-55.

Ebrey, Patricia. "The Family in the Classical Tradition." In Family and Property in Sung China: Yuan Ts'ai's Precepts for a Social Life. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984. Pp. 30-60.

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Eutsler, Nellvena Duncan. "Journey to the East: Impressions of Children's Literature and Instructional Media in Contemporary China." Children's Literature 9 (1981): 73-91.

Farquhar, M. "Through the Looking Glass: Children's Stories and Social Change in China (1918–1976)." In Society and the Writer: Essays on Literature in Modern Asia (1981), ed. Gungwu Wang. Canberra: Research School of Pacific Studies, The Australian National University, 1981. Pp. 173-98.

Feldman, Gayle. "The Organization of Publishing in China." China Quarterly 107 (1986): 519-29.

Hong Xiaobing Nupi Shentong Shi (The Little red guards angrily attack the poem of the venerable child). Shanghai: Shanghai People's Publishing House, n.d.

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Hu Wa (Tiger baby). Shanghai: Juvenile and Children's Publishing House, 1989.

Jiao Baobao (Teaching Precious). Vols. 1-4. Shanghai: Juvenile and Children's Publishing House, 1985.

Jin Jin, ed. Zhongguo Xin Wenyi Da Xi (1976–1982): Ertong Wenxue Ji (Anthology of new Chinese literature, 1976–1982: Collection of Children's Literature). Beijing: Zhongguo Wenlian, 1986.

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Kantu Shizi (Look at the picture, recognize the character). Henan: Haiyan, n.d.

Kuang Bangyu and Wen Lianghua. Hui Fei de Xiao Pengyou (Little friends who can fly). Kunming: Yunnan Juvenile and Children's Publishing House, 1986.

"Lanlan Zhao Pengyou (Lanlan finds a friend)." Jiao Baobao 1: 7-8.

Liu Houming. "Hong Ye Shuqian (Red leaf bookmark)." Jin 10-14.

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Lou Feifu, "Gege Ji (Clucking Hen)," Xiaoxue Yuwen Bao (Diyouban) (Elementary School Literary Newspaper [Lower Grades Issue]), vol. 4 (Jan. 1, 1993), 1.

Lu Fei. "Ding Ning (Ding Ning)." Jin 78-82.

Luo Chensheng. "Bai Bozi (White neck)." Jin 82-89.

――――――. "Chi Tuolaji de Gushi (The story of eating the tractor)." Jin 59-64.

Lystad, Mary. "A Contemporary Note on Early American, Modern Russian, and Chinese Books for Children." In A Child's World. Rockville, Md.: National Institute of Mental Health, 1974. Pp. 119-24.

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――――――. What Chinese Children Read About: Serial Picture Books and Foreigners. Victoria, Australia: Centre for Comparative and International Studies in Education, School of Education, 1976.

Qiu Xun, "Sanse Yuanzhubi (Three-colored pen)." Jin 125-32.

Sanjian Maoxianyi (Three sweaters). Shanghai: People's Publishing House, 1974.

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――――――. "Heroic Quintuplets: A Look at Some Chinese Children's Literature." Children's Literature 3 (1974): 36-42.

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Rajeswari Sunder Rajan (essay date 1999)

SOURCE: Rajan, Rajeswari Sunder. "Fictions of Difference: Contemporary Indian Stories for Children." In Girls, Boys, Books, Toys: Gender in Children's Literature and Culture, edited by Beverly Lyon Clark and Margaret R. Higonnet, pp. 97-111. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

[In the following essay, Rajan utilizes two examples of English-language Indian children's literature—Indi Rana's Devil in the Dustbin and Sigrun Srivatsava's "Trapped!"—to contrast how differences in Indian culture are presented to English-speaking audiences.]

Recent intellectual historians have persuaded us that childhood and children's literature are concepts and categories with specific histories and cultures, and not "natural" entities inhabiting some timeless realm. This realization has altered both the critical attention directed at writing for children and, more radically, literary theories themselves. Reception studies, histories of women's writing, cultural studies, semiotics, psychoanalysis, linguistics, folklore, and anthropological studies have investigated childhood as well as its culture and in turn have altered, or further developed, their theoretical positions. It is within the broad parameters of feminist cultural studies that I explore, with deliberate ambiguity, the fictions of difference in writing for children in India.

I focus my analysis on two contemporary stories for children written by Indian authors and published in India. Indi Rana's book-length Devil in the Dustbin and Sigrun Srivatsava's short story "Trapped!", both written in English,1 explore the concept and reality of differences of race, religious community, nationality, caste, gender, age, and species. Such exploration of difference is both fraught with contradiction and of the utmost significance for children's fiction produced in contemporary India. Therefore I begin this essay with consideration of the question of difference in relation to children. I then describe the scene of writing for children in India today. In my discussion of the two stories, I focus on questions of ideology and the postcolonial framing of the "national" and the "transnational" within the problematic of difference in children's texts in India today.


Writers who attempt the exploration of difference must first decide whether to represent difference as natural or constructed, real or imagined. The implications of these choices are theoretical as well as political. In this debate—central to feminist, antiracist, anti-imperialist, gay/lesbian, and nationalist theories—the "constructionist" position has generally been viewed as having liberatory potential. It argues that differences are "imagined," that is, culturally constructed as ideology and subject to historical change, thus challenging the "naturalist" position, which deterministically claims significant and unalterable differences among people of different races, sexes, genders. In disputing difference, constructionists do not deny the real effects of difference but identify the possibilities of resistance to and overthrow of the hierarchies that structure it.

One reason for the difficulty of representing difference as ideology to children is to be found in the contradictory ways children themselves are viewed "in ideology": as both singularly "free" of ideology, that is, of received ways of knowing, conditioned beliefs, taught wisdom; and particularly vulnerable to it, as a function of their dependence on adult guidance of their minds. Romanticism first popularized the now-prevalent view of childhood as the "innocent" condition of ignorance of difference. But if children's acknowledgment of difference is a "fall," it is also a necessary aspect of their socialization and identity formation. In the Lacanian sense, the relationship of difference to identity—that is, the recognition of the self (only) in distinction from the other—structures the world of children by constituting their entry into the symbolic. But difference typically appears in binary structures that also signal hierarchized values—and become the ground of social conflict.

The adult as parent or mentor functions as the agent of the child's initiation into difference. What role does the "progressive" children's book play in this process? The paradigmatic figure of the author of such books is the mother in Blake's poem "Little Black Boy." The child says,

    … I am black, but O! my soul is white;
    White as an angel is the English child,
    But I am black, as if bereav'd of light.
    My mother taught me underneath a tree,
    "… these black bodies and this sunburnt face
    Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove."
    And thus I say to little English boy:
    When I from black and he from white cloud free,
    And round the tent of God like lambs we joy,
    I'll shade him from the heat …
    And be like him, and he will then love me.

Like the mother, the author of children's books must reconcile being adult, and hence complicit in leading the child reader toward recognition of difference, with being progressive, and hence committed to keeping intact his or her cognitive ignorance of it within the moral universe of "innocence." The author has recourse to two major strategies. One is the simultaneous teaching and unlearning of difference, the introduction of the child to the "reality" of difference followed by returning him or her to an "original" state of ignorance—which must now overlook or transcend it: a double teaching, both difficult and contradictory. An alternative strategy interprets "difference" in two different ways, one meaning dissimilarity, nonidentity, variety, or heterogeneity, and calling for acknowledgment, even celebration, as an aspect of the created world; and the other meaning inequality, opposition, and conflict, and requiring disavowal, as an aspect of human distortion of relationships. A complex distinction, it moves from the cognitive framing of reality to the diagnosis of social attitudes and the ordering of values. These difficult strategies create ambivalent effects in children's fiction.

The ambivalence is most visible in the negotiations the text must perform between hard truth and reassuring falseness, especially in the resolution to the situations of difference-and-conflict that the narrative constructs. Yet, formally, without such conflict there would be no narrative. Children's writing built on the Romantic view of the "fall" cannot withstand the claim that children-in-the-world always already "know" conflict grounded in difference and therefore that their imaginative world in fiction, if it is not to be bland, palliative, or simply false, must turn this often inchoate "knowing" into recognizable shapes as a preliminary to tackling the problems it poses. Rana's and Srivatsava's stories seek to reconcile the difficult alternatives available by framing a universe of cultural relativism and espousing liberal values of tolerance, sympathy, cosmopolitanism, and the recognition of universal human rights within the "fiction" of difference. Rana's Devil in the Dustbin promotes the relativistic outlook by showing that a devil too is human; Srivatsava's "Trapped!" reasserts the values of humanity after the young hero's difficult discovery that human beings can turn into devils, insensate, furious, and murderous. But neither story is free of contradiction or compromise in its exemplary representation of differences or of the values it promotes toward harmony or in the resolution it fashions for the narrative of conflict.

Constructionist theories of difference, Lacanian narratives of the symbolic, Romantic versions of childhood, liberal ideologies of multiculturalism, and the "plot" of conflict—these are the explanatory frames within which the problematic of children in difference may be viewed in contemporary Indian children's fiction.


Contemporary writings for children in India that reveal sensitivity to issues of difference are recent and self-conscious attempts to counter the common biases found in almost all institutions and practices. Differences of class, community, caste, religion, and language in this vast multicultural nation-state create social tension and recurrent conflicts. Equally tenacious as a social problem is discrimination against girls. Therefore sensitivity in the representation of difference assumes political significance. Testifying to the urgency that attends reform and innovation in writing for children, official bodies such as the National Council for Educational Research and Training and National Book Trust monitor textbooks, sponsor supplementary readers, study "local" knowledges, and translate and disseminate written material.

The majority of works written for children in India are educational in purpose (for example, textbooks, literacy and numeracy primers, postliteracy material, informative posters and magazines, and health and civic manuals) and are produced in Indian languages. Arguably, the most innovative and challenging new writing for children is found in the materials produced by the nonformal education centers run by voluntary organizations that engage with the problems of difference as an aspect of development activities,2 and the most reactionary and stereotyped ways of seeing are reproduced in the larger proportion of formal teaching material.

Imaginative literature intended specifically for children is not part of Indian literary tradition. Adults do of course tell their children stories drawn from a vast repertoire of folk narratives, religious myth and legend, and local and regional histories, but these are not exclusively children's stories. Filled with rich fantasy and marked by narrative intricacy—as in the ancient Panchatantra3—they amply fulfill the imaginative requirements of stories for children, but the didactic function of children's literature is blurred. Printed texts targeting child readers are few and recent. Story texts in English represent an even smaller proportion of children's literature in India.4

It is not only numerically that these texts are insignificant. The emphasis on school texts marginalizes leisure reading for children—so much so that storybooks must appear under the guise of supplementary readers with specific "educational" inputs, in order to appeal to teachers and parents as acceptable reading for children. In addition, the recent explosion in entertainment television through the arrival of foreign cable networks—even though programming specifically for children is sparse—has meant that reading is no longer a significant leisure activity among children. This marginalization, not to say neglect, of imaginative children's writing is reflected in the low sales of children's books (whether to libraries or individuals). All the same, there are trends in this kind of fiction worth noting because they signal change, or the desire for change, in the situation of and attitudes toward children.

The child who reads English-language books is a product of the "English-medium" public school (that is, the private school where the medium of instruction is English), supported by the Indian middle class. Until recently, the only imaginative literature available was imported from Britain or the United States, so that books popular in the Anglo-American West provided the staple of the Indian child's leisure reading as well. The scene today shows an increase in the number of Indian writers writing about India for children and in the number of commercial publishers (in addition to state-sponsored bodies) publishing their work. This development reflects the situation of Indian fiction in English in general in the 1980s and 1990s after the appearance of Salman Rushdie's landmark Midnight's Children (1981). Though the majority of children's books in India are adaptations, retellings, and even comic-strip renderings of Hindu myths, classics, and folklore or are Indianized versions of children's genres popular in the West (school stories and adventure and detective stories, for example), a small number are now specifically written from within a realistic, contemporary Indian context. It is this category to which Devil in the Dustbin and "Trapped!" belong.

Thus, on one hand, children's literature in English in India must be viewed as an aspect of the current surge in imaginative writing in English, even though as writing for children it suffers from devaluation as a marginalized leisure activity. On the other hand, it must also be viewed in conjunction with the fresh attention to universal primary education and adult literacy in the Indian state's developmental agenda. The two extremely divergent literary products—expensive English-language storybooks for upper-class children in public school, and nonformal educational materials for rural or urban working children who are not in school—may share a progressive purpose and ideology and even authorship. Rana exemplifies this conjuncture, being both a consultant in a rural communication project and an established children's writer in English.

The majority of Indian writers of children's fiction are women, for reasons that undoubtedly have to do with their putative understanding of the child "sensibility" and the marginalization of such writing as literature. Still, the gendered division of authorship, like the divide between writers for adults and writers for children, is not as extreme in the English-language children's fiction in India as it is in the West. For example, Rushdie has himself written a delightful children's book, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, a profoundly allegorical fable about censorship and imaginative literature; Vikram Seth, another major contemporary Indian novelist and poet in English, has produced a light-hearted collection of verse for children called Beastly Tales from Here and There. The novelist Ruskin Bond is one of the most enduring and prolific of children's fiction writers. Prominent women novelists—Anita Desai and Shashi Deshpande, among others—also write fiction for children. The English-educated middle-class Indian woman today is a significant consideration also as the major buyer of children's books, and her liberal political preferences are reflected in the carefully progressive gender and secular positions adopted by both Rana and Srivatsava, who are fairly representative of the class of women for and by whom English fiction for children in India is written.

As fiction in English, these texts signal—beyond their class elitism—a class-derived secularism that is a function of the role of English as a national language (see Dhareshwar). As one of the two official languages of postindependence India, English functions as a link language in a federation of multilinguistic states. Therefore fiction in English has implicitly come to represent a literature that is "Indian" as opposed to "regional." Srivatsava's "Trapped!" draws on this assumption of a secular "Indian identity" among middle-class (educated, English-speaking) citizens to counter the phenomenon of religious animosity between sectarian groups that provokes pogroms and riots. (She is careful to show, however, that this secularism is not antireligious, or even agnostic.) English is also the language of the cosmopolitan postcolonial intelligentsia, in particular those who travel to the West to study or work. A significant portion of the Indian immigrant community in the West is made up of upwardly mobile aspirants to the professional and material rewards of the "affluent society." Rana's Devil in the Dustbin (like her second book for young adults, The Roller Birds of Rampur) is written explicitly for this Indian immigrant community, who must cope with the experience of racism and come to terms with the problems of deracination, such as knowing only English. Thus, in postcolonial fiction, English implicitly addresses the problems of conflict among groups within the nation and between racial/national identities by encoding a nationalist secularism and an internationalist cosmopolitanism.


Rana's Devil in the Dustbin, written for ten- to twelve-year-olds, is a fable of transnational travel and exile originally published in Britain and clearly intended for children of immigrant Indians. The eponymous devil in the dustbin is Chellappa, a small, green-skinned, red-eyed, black-fanged spirit visible only to sympathetic (usually young) human beings. Chellappa is a puliamchedi brahmarakshasha, or tamarind tree-dwelling spirit. Transported by accident from his tamarind tree home in Madras and deposited in a dustbin in Wimbledon, England, he is forced to adapt and adopt an elm tree in order to survive. Despite his new elm tree dwelling and his friend-ships with other nature spirits and the little human girl, Ranjana, who takes care of him, his extreme homesickness leads him to accompany Ranjana back to India on her next trip home. Once in India, Chellappa realizes that his old safe affiliations—with his caste, his friends and family, his neighborhood, even his old tamarind tree—have vanished. Now irrevocably "cosmopolitan," a "citizen of the world," he returns to England—to his elm tree and neighborhood spirit friends—with Ranjana and her family, who have come to the same realization. Henceforth he will be a traveler between two worlds.

In this story, Rana invokes the proliferation of differences entailed by the cross-cultural interchange as the traveler encounters new climates, flora and fauna, languages, customs, dress, and food that challenge received ways of knowing and living. In exploring the migrant condition, Rana poses questions of different allegiances and loyalties. In addition, she explores other oppositions—those between human and supernatural beings, adults and children, boys and girls, country and city, as well as different castes—and identifies the various ways in which human (and spirit) beings negotiate these differences. Less programmatic in the story than my paraphrase suggests, Rana's touch is light, humorous, tactful, and moderate.

The central issue of the story, the problems of the immigrant living in a foreign land, is represented by the tree spirit Chellappa (the accidental tourist) and his human counterpart Ajoy, Ranjana's older brother. In contrast to these two, Ranjana is well adjusted and happy in England, having been born and raised there. She is the Blakean child, a being who has faith in the supernatural and is thus the only human privileged to see Chellappa and to mediate between him and the world; she possesses the wisdom to understand and solve the problems of adjustment experienced by Ajoy and Chellappa. Ranjana's behavior is identified as characteristically female by her brother, who dismisses her as a "silly girl!" Yet Rana gives the same kind of wisdom to the fairy Miss Pennyworth, the "direct descendant of King Oberon," as well as to the central narrator.

Typically, the psychology of male adolescence impels Ajoy's distrust and competitiveness toward his English peers; similarly, it is the life of hard struggle with trees and rivalry with his fellow tree spirits that Chellappa misses most in England. (The English elm tree, in contrast to the fierce young tamarind trees in India, is characterized as "peaceful and graceful.") If adjustment is the product of the female child's intuitive wisdom, and negative immigrant attitudes are specifically gendered male and linked with adolescent aggression, then the working out of hostility—its virtual exorcism, as the dream experience of the English boy Alec makes clear—and submission to and acceptance of difference entail the twin processes of feminization and the unlearning of adult values.

Two problems pervade the immigrant experience that Ajoy and Chellappa experience: a painful longing for the home country, accompanied by dismay at the strangeness of the new country, and subjection to racial prejudice. Rana deals with the first as a process that requires time and changes in the immigrant's attitudes in order to be overcome. Eventually Ajoy and Chellappa discover, in the course of their longed-for visit to India, that they wish to return to England after all: "It was strange coming back to this cold, damp, grey country … because it suddenly felt like home. And that really confused me" (107), says Chellappa of his second, voluntary, passage to England.

Alongside this personal revelation, Devil in the Dustbin proposes that it is a moral necessity to escape parochialism and develop broad-mindedness through travel and residence abroad. "He [Ajoy] thinks that if he stays here [i.e., in India] now he'll become some-how smaller." Chellappa agrees: "There will be a time when our hearts will become bigger and we'll have a whole new world" (106).

The strength of this narrative resolution to exile is undercut by the force and conviction with which Rana represents the condition of homesickness as a poignant and actual physical sickness. Chellappa describes it thus: "I began to feel ill…. I dreamed of the young tamarind tree in Madras, and how hard it had fought, and how its bark felt to my touch. And I woke just aching to be back home" (48). A painful realization accompanies the protagonist's later acceptance of the new country, the price at which it is achieved: the loss of his original affiliations and the safety, comfort, and emotional satisfactions they provided and, worse, the rejection by his community (for Chellappa, his fellow spirits; for Ajoy, his cousins), which is felt as defeat. To belong everywhere is, in a sense, to belong nowhere. The satisfactions of the new life achieve only the thin resonance of sour grapes rather than a full and inherent meaningfulness.

Nevertheless, we might describe such a resolution as a compromise rather than a contradiction and find it acceptable at the level of verisimilitude. The other major problem of immigrant life, racism, is more intractable in children's fiction. Rana faces the familiar problem in representing racial difference: she must reproduce stereotypes even while repudiating them as a negative and reductive way of knowing the Other. When writing about the international community of nature spirits, for example, she resorts to easily recognizable linguistic inflections of English as the easiest way to designate different nationalities—Indian, Caribbean, East European, and Chinese, for example—though, like much stereotyping, this is done with benign and humorous intent and effects.

Representations of racial conflict informed by liberal sympathies work well in certain respects in fiction for children. Rana's painstaking explanation of how negative racial stereotypes gain currency would undoubtedly help the immigrant child refuse and even contest them, while the child of racist parents is helped to understand, from the other side, how ill founded they are. As an instance of the latter, Alec, the son of the Bannerjees' English neighbors, believes that "Asians are dirty" on the basis of "what he sees," but what he sees is conditioned by what he expects to see, a sophisticated point. Alec, like Chellappa and Ajoy, eventually learns to see without preconceptions. This resolution of conflict through personal conversions or changes in relationships leaves the structural problem of racism intact, however. Rana recognizes that the proximity created by common schools, play areas, and workplaces causes competition, fear, anxiety, prejudice, and hostility between resident and alien communities. She confronts this reality by invoking, first, globalism—that is, the argument that "our world is becoming smaller and problems in one place affect everyone, everywhere" (69)—and second, universalism—that is, the belief that "under our differences we are all the same" (106). Geographical smallness versus vastness, proximity versus distance, and neighborhoods versus nations—these options are translated into the opposed political, moral, and visionary categories of prejudice, discrimination, and hostility versus tolerance, true knowledge, and universalism.

If harmonious coexistence in multicultural societies depends on liberal values for implementation, then the philosophical frame that will hold them is cultural relativism. By making Chellappa belong to an order of being altogether different from the human, Rana is able to illustrate how narrow our (human) judgment of measures and values may be. About his age, for instance, Chellappa says, casually, "After all, I was only 1758 years old. Young, for a brahmarak-shasha" (45). Recognizing that skin color is the most visible, indeed flagrant, sign of racial difference, Rana uses Chellappa's colorful appearance as a way of deconstructing the black-white opposition. Even as Chellappa preens over his green skin and black fangs, he concedes that he may not be a human ideal: "I'm green, which I know you think isn't the most attractive colour to be, but it suits us creatures who live in trees. I've got, I think, a dashing smile, but unfortunately, humans who see me seem not to think so … when I smile they usually faint dead away with a piercing shriek…. All in all, from the human point of view I'm not a lovely sight. But among brahmarakshashas I'm known as a handsome devil" (15-16).5

The limits and contradictions of liberalism in the context of multicultural societies have been widely discussed in recent philosophical debates (see Taylor et al.). My point is that these values carry conviction in the story written for children. There is strategic effectiveness in the way Rana draws the limits of her fictional world, within which the world of adult human beings is bracketed doubly—as both exclusion and frame. By figuring children and spirits as protagonists open to these values, she suggests their difference from—and superiority to—adult human beings, with their hegemonic constructions of difference (which the gnome Zielinski describes as "that stupid 'us-them' business humans get into!" [77]).

In addition to the psychological verisimilitude and the ethical force with which Rana negotiates the problems of immigration, racism, and multicultural coexistence for the child reader, she raises the question of the historical understanding of these issues. Rana uses the broad category of "difference" as a heuristic device to draw parallels between racism in Britain and casteism in India. (The book was reprinted in India under Penguin India's Puffin Books imprint, in all likelihood because of its perceived expanded rel-evance to readers in India.) Further, by juxtaposing casteism in Indian society with its irrelevance in the Indian diaspora, Rana productively distinguishes between affiliations that we may term primordial and voluntary commitments to new forms of community and political struggle made in response to historical pressures. Individuals' "original" affiliation to a caste, a linguistic community, a race, or a nation locates them within a setting that "naturally," and hence painlessly, shapes their identity and commands their loyalties. While fixed loyalties and identities may be jeopardized as the Third World diaspora creates new definitions of location—home, neighbourhood, work-place, ghettos, margins, centers—in Rana's story openness accrues value and carries historical significance.

But by addressing the problems of traditional Indian social organization in the context of modernity, that is, postcolonial migrancy, Rana also connects the two: through Chellappa's example, she argues the belief that the outmoded social practice of caste will go away when Indian people are subjected to the historical changes of modernity, such as globalism. As migrants cope with the new problems of cultural adjustment, it is believed, they will leave behind the old problems of their "national" histories. But what we have seen instead is the revival of religious, linguistic, and cultural orthodoxies among "Third World" immigrant communities in the West: a fundamentalism that is the beleaguered nativistic response to a First World hegemonistic modernity defined by industrial capitalism. In positing the migrant's change of identity from an "original" caste/community/nation to a new cosmopolitanism, Rana neglects the actual historical realities of Asian immigrant communities in Britain, which contradict the belief in such an easy conversion. Postcolonialism and transnationalism cannot be read in the uncomplicated light of historical progress.

Cultural relativism has similar problematic theoretical implications when we look beyond its underpinning of liberal communitarianism, in that it feeds into postmodern celebrations of migrancy as freedom from history, as the choice rather than historical necessity of residence/citizenship, and as the privileged perspective of the cosmopolitan exile. Aijaz Ahmad condemns Rushdie's novels for precisely this quality of postmodern historical irresponsibility (127-32). Rana moves into the postmodern frame via several moves. First, she makes a virtue of the immigrant's necessity for "adjustment" in the new country. (The historical compulsions of immigration, such as jobs and political exile, are not touched on, since the protagonists are children, who have simply accompanied their parents to Britain, and spirits, whose travels are fantastical.) Next, the negative aspects of uprooting—homesickness, alienation, and the like—are "over-come," and a progressive, "modern," secular, and cosmopolitan outlook replaces the immigrant's earlier parochialism. Finally, as a definition of the diasporic condition itself comes the assertion that migrants do not have to choose between their two countries, but can become perpetual travelers between them and thereby gain the best of both worlds—or what Ahmad describes as an "excess of belonging" (130). For the intended child readers of this posthistorical narrative, the denial of historical identity serves as a consolatory fiction.


Srivatsava's "Trapped!", which appeared in a children's literature supplement of the Book Review, is one of a collection of adventure stories entitled Danger in the Mountains. Based on the riots in Delhi in 1984 that followed the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in which the Sikh community was attacked by Hindu mobs and more than two thousand male Sikhs were killed, the story narrates the events of one fearful night of communal violence as seen through the eyes of Ranjit, a young Sikh boy. Ranjit and his family—his mother, brother, and grandmother—are hiding in their house from the rampaging mobs. When the attackers enter the house, it seems they are led by a young Hindu neighbor and friend, Surinder Sharma, whom Ranjit had always liked and admired. Ranjit's anger at Surinder's betrayal is quickly replaced by gratitude as he realizes that Surinder is only pretending to be part of the vengeful mob in order secretly to help Ranjit and his family escape to his own house. The story ends with Surinder's restoration of the family's Sikh holy book, the revered Adi Granth, to Ranjit's mother and his sorrowful announcement that he was unable to save the old grandmother.

Friendship, neighborliness, and the innate goodness of human nature reassuringly resist the hatred and violence generated by communal conflict; violence is attributed to mob feelings, insensate fury, the drunkenness of the rioting men, or their instigation by others.6 Thus the terms of the irrational are used to explain the sudden disruption of normality. Srivatsava endorses these beliefs by exemplifying goodness in the Hindu neighbor, Surinder, and his family, and by making Ranjit's mother the sympathetic diagnostician of this situation, saying, "It is neither the neighbours nor our friends who seek revenge. It's a group of misled fanatics, driven by personal grievances against society. They stir the mob, they poison their minds and spark off these fires of violence" (17). Like the mother in Blake's "Little Black Boy," she mediates between the child and the hostility of the real world and performs the authorial surrogate function of providing reassurance and renewal of faith to the child (protagonist/reader). By interposing the shield of adult explanation in gendered, maternal terms, between the male child and his exposure to collective adult male aggression, Srivatsava spares the child from a traumatic entry into male adulthood, or at least delays it.

This resolution is reassuringly humanistic, but it is not necessarily false for that reason, or, at any rate, it is not false when measured against the facts of the situation. On the contrary, stories of neighborhood solidarities and sacrifice by Hindus on behalf of Sikhs were widely reported during the rioting as a way of asserting the decency of the common people even in times of communal conflict. And many commentators tended to view communal riots as either irrational or instigated, denying any real agency to the rioters (see Taylor et al.'s collection of essays). I want instead to ask other questions, locate other contradictions in the story.

There is, first, the passage in the text that narrates Ranjit's longing for his father's presence and protection at the height of his terror: "He wished his father were here…. Oh, how he wished his father were here, if only for a while, for a few minutes, till everything was over" (18). Nothing could be more psychologically realistic than this longing, given the traditional gender ascription of the role of protector of the family to its male head. However, there is a particular reason why Srivatsava created an absent father in this text: in the riots of 1984, male Sikhs were systematically hunted out from their houses and killed. Had Ranjit's father been present in the house, not only would he have been in great danger, but he undoubtedly would have endangered his sons' lives rather than saved them. (But we note that because the heroic Surinder substitutes for Ranjit's absent father as savior in the narrative of danger, the traditional connections among masculinity, heroism, and homosocial bonding are not entirely disavowed in the unique construction of the case.) Srivatsava implicitly invites the reader's knowledge of an hors texte to lend an almost unbearable irony to the passage; this unspoken knowledge acts in the way a censored passage in a text often does when one knows of the censorship, as a gesture toward the unmentionable. The ironic knowledge therefore undercuts the reassurance that is the message of the story.

But there is a scapegoat offered up to the "realistic" requirements of the story, the victim who must die in the interests of narrative credibility: the old grandmother. Of course, a Darwinian logic justifies this dispensation: unable to escape, expendable because of her age, gender, and lack of sentimental function, the grandmother is no great loss for the family or the narrative in which she figures so briefly. (In the narrative of violence, women have at best a fragile presence: as Srivatsava recognizes, even the mother's presence and her pedagogic authority do not adequately substitute for the absent father's protection in the child's time of need.)

But though the grandmother dies, the holy book is saved. This substitution is interesting because of the priorities it indicates within the secular ideology that Srivatsava promotes. In India, secularism is the desired and official antidote to sectarian conflict arising from regional, religious, linguistic, caste, and other differences. Typically, it is understood as tolerance of all communities, regardless of one's own affiliations. Surinder's rescue of a different religious community's holy book, and Srivatsava's highlighting of this as the story's climactic resolution, must be understood in this light. The author could not have treated religion as irrelevant in this context without being accused of another, negative kind of secularism, one equated with irreligion, skepticism, and bad aspects of modernity.7 Thus the grandmother's death, however gratuitous in actual terms, substitutes within the narrative for the death of the father and the destruction of the holy book, both of which are thereby averted.

The happy ending of "Trapped!", which is indicated by a Hindu boy's rescue of his Sikh neighbors and their holy book, may also be read as a formal requirement of the children's adventure story, a genre that typically conducts the (child) protagonist through a variety of dangers and narrow escapes into safety. The protagonist of such stories is often relatively passive, as in this instance, serving only as a reflecting and suffering consciousness, while the actual heroism and initiative may be given to an older, or adult, hero (Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island is a case in point). The adventure story cannot, of course, be expected to plumb the depths of emotional disturbance that the child is likely to experience after his adventures. Recent research in India reveals that child survivors of communal riots are profoundly traumatized and may harbor deep feelings of hatred for, and fantasies of revenge against, their attackers. Srivatsava lies only by omission when she opts for a narrative conclusion that stops at the boy's immediate escape into safety and does not hint at the aftermath of the night's happenings. Clearly, the narrative modes available to writers of children's fiction, such as adventure or fantasy (as in Devil in the Dustbin), negotiate representations of difference in ways other than that of stark realism. These alternatives are invoked both as cognitive structures accessible to children within familiar textual frames of reference and as formal alibis for the mitigated representation of the full consequences of conflict. My point in discussing the tensions in "Trapped!" is to indicate how another knowledge—which the contemporary child reader in India who has recently lived through these experiences may be expected to possess—would impinge on the narrative's formal and ideological thrust. This reader may be responsive to the excitement of the adventure narrative, as well as its message of faith in human goodness, or he or she may read it as a darker, ironically sentimental "fiction" of difference. A postcolonial nationalism that expresses itself in the desire for a unitary nation, as opposed to sectarian conflict and division, harbors contradictions at its core that are reflected in the fictions it fashions for children.

The two texts I have discussed here as representative of contemporary children's stories in English in India exemplify these difficulties in spite of the great sensitivity to the issues of race and communalism they display. They risk reducing difference to a problem of human behavior and attitude, resolvable fictionally in ethical and psychological terms. But difference is not a "problem" that can be tackled head on, as it were, by representing situations requiring problem-solving strategies of fictional resolution. It is less judgments of political correctness that one seeks to arrive at in responding to questions of difference in writing for children, than acknowledgment of the difficulties of the project.


1. "Trapped!" appeared in 1993 and was announced as forthcoming in the author's Danger in the Mountains, to be published in Singapore. All quotations from the two texts are from the Indian editions.

2. See Gita Wolf's translation in Landscapes (in Telegu and Tamil), collected by a project called Aayana organized by the Madras Craft Foundation. See also R. K. Agnihotri et al.'s account of Eklavya, a successful experiment in primary education in Madhya Pradesh, and Anita Rampal's and Tultul Biswas's translated excerpts from Chakmak, Eklavya's monthly magazine, which publishes writings by children.

3. The Panchatantra is a collection of human and animal stories in Sanskrit, extant in the sixth century, which spread through ancient Europe and other parts of Asia. The stories deal mostly with questions of polity, celebrating shrewdness and worldly wisdom over morality.

4. Few extended discussions of children's literature in India are available. Book Review, however, publishes a special issue on the topic every year in November, to coincide with Children's Day.

5. Chellappa's concern with body image would speak strongly to a female reader, and this, as well as his age (old in relation to Ranjana and indeed all humans, but young in brahmarakshasha terms), makes him the mediatory figure between male and female, child and adult figures.

6. Veena Das has identified these two as the predominant explanatory frames in most analyses of the riots and proposes in their place a more narrow focus on the "local context" of every event of collective violence (160). Sudhir Kakar also points up the limitations of the "instrumentalist" theory of ethnic violence, which turns into an "instigator" theory and favors a more "social-psychological" explanation that accords significance to "primordial" attachments to cultural identity (211-15).

"Communalism" is the preferred phrase in India for the phenomenon of movements based on religious identity (which would probably be described as "ethnicity" in the West, with a greater emphasis on racial identities). The Indian State is constitutionally secular, but conflict between religious communities frequently breaks out in the form of rioting, including arson, looting, rape, and murder. The Sikh communal agitation of the 1980s and early 1990s was secessionist, demanding that a separate Sikh nation, Khalistan, be formed out of Punjab.

7. Debates about Indian secularism are widespread. See Kaushik Basu and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, especially Sen's essay.

Lijun Bi (essay date March 2003)

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[In the following essay, Bi traces the evolution of Chinese children's literature over the last half-century, asserting that, "[i]n the post-Mao period, the state has become more flexible, cautious and subtle about using children's literature for its political purposes."]

In dynastic China, children were subordinates, properties, and even slaves of their parents. Their need for entertainment was ignored. China, with rich and diverse genres of mainstream literature that can be traced back 4,000 years, did not produce quality literature specifically for children until the New Culture Movement in the early twentieth century. Then the patriotic Chinese intellectuals turned to the West for ideological inspiration to facilitate social progress. To use what children read for moral teaching has a venerable tradition in China, attributable to Confucius 2,500 years ago, who regarded 'filial piety' as the root of the cultivation of morality and the foundation of a harmonious society. Modern Chinese children's literature, as an independent and identifiable branch of literature, emerged in the early twentieth century reflecting a breaking away from Confucian ethics and recognising children as a group of independent human beings with their own respective rights. The emergence of modern Chinese children's literature must also be viewed in its historical context. In the late nineteenth century, China suffered numerous humiliations after it was defeated by Western powers and had to cede territories such as Hong Kong and Macau and open up treaty ports where Westerners could establish their 'concessions.' It was the sense of social responsibility and historical mission that brought a group of Chinese writers together to create a modern Chinese children's literature for the purpose of educating the future generation, thus 'saving the children' and 'saving the nation.'

Modern Chinese children's literature has very distinctive features. It contains strong political, moral, and ideological messages. It became a weapon for exposing the evils of a sick society and fighting foreign invasions. In the first seventeen years of Mao Zedong's rule, 1949 to 1966, Chinese children's literature experienced changes of political and moral themes. The role of children's literature was to train loyal revolutionary fighters and hardworking revolutionary constructors. In the disastrous Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, children's literature ceased to exist in China. The moral principles advocated in the propaganda materials of the time were based on absolute loyalty to the supreme leader 'Chairman Mao' personally and class awareness in regard to relations between people. 'Father is close, mother is close, but neither is closer than Chairman Mao' was a song known to almost every child in China. The Cultural Revolution ended with the death of Mao Ze-dong in 1976. In December 1978, when Deng Xiaoping took total control of the Party and the government, the focus of the nation shifted from the class struggle to the program codified as 'four modernisations'—to modernise the nation's industry, agriculture, technology, and defence. Children's literature was given a new role to play in the program of modernisation in the post-Mao period.

What Chinese children read has long been underresearched in the West. Mary Farquhar's Children's Literature in China—from Lu Xun to Mao Zedong (1999; winner of the 2001 Children's Literature Association Book Award) has broken new ground in this somehow neglected field. Farquhar's study, however, ends with the death of Mao Zedong, when the 'situation changed dramatically' 'with a publishing explosion' (p. 7). Only a very small number of contemporary works arising from this explosion have been discussed and analysed, often in the context of a chosen theme.1 This paper attempts to fill in the gap and shed light on what Chinese children have read in the last quarter of the 20th century. This article first briefly examines the official guidelines for children's literature in the post-Mao era and then analyses some examples to identify the new contents of children's books in China. These examples are taken from two subdivided periods: from the late 1970s to the early 1980s and from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s.

The Official Guidelines

On 30 October 1979, Deng Xiaoping, the new paramount leader of China, made an important speech at the Fourth Congress of Chinese Writers and Artists. In this speech, he laid down the new guidelines for Chinese literature and art in this period:

Our country has entered a new period, a period of socialist modernisation…. The overriding nation-wide task for a considerable time to come will be to work single-mindedly for the four modernisations…. The basic standard for judging all our work is whether it helps or hinders our effort to modernise. The writers and artists, together with the educators, theorists, journalists, political workers and other comrades concerned, should carry out a protracted and effective struggle in the ideological sphere against all ideas and habits that obstruct the four modernizations…. They should revive and carry forward the revolutionary traditions of our Party and people, cultivate fine morals and customs, and contribute to the building of a socialist civilisation with a high cultural and ideological level.

                                     (pp. 201-202)

For the whole nation, the new 'socialist modernisation' became the priority. Deng Xiaoping, however, did not specify the task for children's literature. Lu Bing, one of the most influential Marxist theoreticians in children's literature, spelled out the following specific task for children's literature in the new period:

Children's literature is a literature to educate children. Our socialist reconstruction has stepped into a new period. Children's literature should adhere to the proletarian literature and art line, carry out the Communist Party's policy in literature and art, and make the maximum efforts to realise the general task in the new period. Children's literature must educate the new generation to develop morally, intellectually and physically and train a vital new force for the four modernisations. In this new period, children's literature should focus on Communist ideological and moral education, science education and democracy education.

                        (see Jiang Feng, 1988, p. 19)

Comparing Lu Bing's account of the purposes of children's literature with that of the seventeen years (1949–1966) before the Cultural Revolution, the most noticeable new term is 'modernisation'; otherwise, the rhetoric is almost identical. To exclude Communist ideology and morals from Chinese children's literature is unimaginable when the Chinese constitution still upholds the four cardinal principles: the leadership of the Communist Party, socialism, Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought, and the dictatorship of the proletariat. For the sake of the 'four modernisations,' the importance of science education is indisputable. However, 'democracy education' is a new notion. Lu Bing explained in this article of 1979 his ideas of 'democracy':

Democracy education is not yet reflected in the creation of the current children's literature…. One important element is to allow children to be nurtured in the spirit of democracy. Let them manage their own affairs, educate themselves, and solve their own problems in study and life according to the principles of democratic centralism. To be concerned with the collective, to respect the masses, to be good at thinking independently and dare to be innovative, all these are indispensable to a Communist.

                          (see Jiang Feng, 1988, p. 21)

As eclectic as this explanation of democracy may be, the mere mentioning of the word 'democracy' was unthinkable a few years earlier.

Children's Stories from the Late 1970s to the Early 1980s

A cursory browse through Chinese children's literature in the post-Mao period leads to this most obvious change: the disappearance of the 'great helmsman, Chairman Mao' himself—abandoning his personality cult. Further examination would reveal that Chinese children's literature in the post-Mao period is nearly free from abstract political terminology, which flooded children's books in the past. It is also much more diverse than ever before. Materials for analysis in this section are chosen from the book Stories for 365 Nights (365 Ye Gushi), which best reflects the themes of the late 1970s and early 1980s. This very popular collection of children's stories was published in 1980 and had a print-run of 4.3 million copies in the following years. The success of this book also indicates a severe shortage of children's books free of overt political indoctrination at that time. Stories for 365 Nights is an anthology, representative of Chinese children's literature of the period, and indeed was produced with the intention of being comprehensive. Lu Bing, its chief editor, made the point very clear in the prologue that this anthology included all the available stories, fairy tales and fables, ancient and modern, and 'all that is beneficial and interesting to children.' The anthology was put together for parents and teachers to use for telling children stories at home, kindergarten, and school. As editor of Stories for 365 Nights, Lu Bing adopts a pose very different from his customary one, that of literary theoretician, when he makes the following point in the prologue:

A story is like a fairy bird, which carries children on its back, opens its colourful wings to fly to a vast mysterious new world. This fairy bird can talk. While gliding, it points at different things and uses entertaining language to tell the children what is beautiful and what is ugly, and what is good and what is evil. It reveals the great creation by nature and the even greater creation by people. It gives children wisdom, courage and ideals.

                                             (p. 1)

What was regarded as 'beautiful,' 'ugly,' 'good,' and 'evil' by Chinese criteria, then? Stories for 365 Nightsrepresents a set of moral values in the transitional period from the late 1970s to the early 1980s in the following four categories, illustrated here by reference to individual stories.

Stories That Encourage Children to Develop Correct Concepts and Attitudes

In the story 'Lanlan Is Also a Good Cat,' Lanlan went to visit her aunt, uncle, and cousin Yuanyuan. Lanlan and Yuanyuan were both kindergarten girls. On the first night, the two girls had to share Yuanyuan's room. After Lanlan fell asleep, Yuanyuan quietly got out of the bed and found a Chinese writing brush. She drew a few long black whiskers around Lanlan's mouth. The next morning, Lanlan got up, folded her blanket, and swept away the lolly wrappers and other waste paper that Yuanyuan had scattered on the floor. When Yuanyuan got up, Lanlan folded Yuanyuan's blanket. But Yuanyuan just stared at Lanlan's mouth and couldn't help giggling. Uncle and Aunt came. They had a big fright at first, and then they understood. Aunt asked, 'Who has swept the floor? It's so clean.' Yuanyuan said, 'A big black cat has come to sweep the floor.' Uncle said, 'Lanlan is indeed a very good cat, but there is a lazy cat in the house, too' (pp. 21-23).

Clearly, the characteristics regarded by the storyteller as 'good' include being courteous, diligent, hygienic, ready to help, sharing, tolerant, and quiet. They are called 'correct concepts and attitudes' that children have to develop, because children, in the years of the Cultural Revolution, had been brought up believing in Mao Zedong's notion of revolution:

A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.

                                 (1967, p. 28)

These words inspired a whole generation of Red Guards who created what is known as 'the red terror' in the early months of the Cultural Revolution. To encourage children to develop 'correct concepts and attitudes' became imperative in the late 1970s and early 1980s for a less militant society. In a story like 'Lanlan Is Also a Good Cat,' the good characteristics are usually brought out by contrasting the opposite characteristics, like those Yuanyuan displays in the story. Another commonly used technique is contrasting a child's actions before and after a lesson or self-reflection, such as in 'Guagua Eats Watermelon' (pp. 38-41). In this story, a child dislikes a watermelon that is small, not ripe, and not sweet. He throws the unfinished melon out the window. His grandmother comes with a big ripe and sweet watermelon, but before she reaches the house, she slips over the thrown melon on the ground. Guagua comes out to sweep away the remains of the melon that he had thrown out the window. His grandma praises him for being so considerate.

'Lanlan Is Also a Good Cat' certainly reflects the problems associated with the one-child policy. Many stories in Stories for 365 Nights tackle this issue directly or indirectly. These stories are designed to show children what is right and what is wrong through the behaviour of the children in the stories, but they actually reveal the problems of parenting as well. Fengfeng is a spoilt only child in the story 'The First One and the Last One.' He is the centre of attention at home. Whenever his parents want him to do anything, the only effective method is to arrange a kind of competition, such as 'who can get dressed first' and 'who can finish lunch first.' Hoping to win makes Fengfeng try. But, when he begins to try, his parents and grandparents all rush to help him. Sometimes when Grandma beats Fengfeng in the game 'who can finish lunch first,' Fengfeng would force Grandma to eat more so that he can have an extension of time to finish his food and claim he is the winner. The story finishes with a question to the young readers and listeners: 'So Fengfeng is always the first and always wins at home. But it is very strange that he is always the last one at kindergarten. He doesn't understand why that is. Do you?' (pp. 18-20). In the story 'Huanhuan Goes to Hospital,' trying to feed Huanhuan is like a circus. She simply refuses to eat. Mum, Dad, and Grandma try every way to force food into her mouth (pp. 164-166). On the whole, the trend in the storytelling in the new period is that overt moralistic terms are replaced by didactic overtones.

Stories of Heroism

Heroism is still an important theme in the post-Mao period. Bravery, courage, and wisdom in fighting against difficulties, hardships, natural disasters, and other enemies are highly praised. In 'Sisters of Grassland,' Longmei and Yurong almost gave their lives for protecting sheep and public property in a storm. When they regained consciousness in hospital, the first thing they asked about was the sheep. They both became members of the Young Pioneers. However, stories of young heroes well known in Mao's years, such as those of Liu Wenxue and Zhang Gao-qian fighting landlords who were stealing public property, have disappeared because 'class struggle' is no longer the major theme.

In some stories, details are still described graphically, as those of the past, to stir up children's class hatred toward the class enemy. 'The Heroic Tiger Hunter' (pp. 229-230) is one such example. In a big mountain cave lived a big tiger, which often came down to eat sheep, pigs, and children. The villagers had to send for a tiger hunter, who turned out to be a skinny old man. His little grandson came along to help. The two of them followed the footprints of the tiger and came before the cave. The little boy mimicked the sound of a sheep. The old man took out a shiny long sharp knife and held it upwards. The tiger came out and saw the old man; it jumped over to him. He lowered his head and raised the knife a little bit. The tip of the knife pierced the chest of the tiger and cut it open. Similar detailed description can be found in the story 'Tactical Hunting of a Crocodile' (pp. 407-408).

Bellies are cut open. Heads are chopped off. Animals are often skinned. These events are celebrated. The description is often realistic and graphic. The killing is even more frequent in stories of animals. Sticks, stones, as well as axes and knives, all become weapons. The villains are usually foxes, wolves, tigers, lions, and bears. Rabbits, lambs, deer, and other small animals are usually heroes. In 'A Fox Pays a New Year's Respect' (pp. 8-10), a group of small animals beat a little fox to death with sticks. 'They beat again and again as hard as they could, till the little fox stopped breathing. Then they put it back into the bag and placed it outside the door' (p. 10). In these stories, the ferocious animals symbolise the class enemy. It is clear that the attitude toward the enemy remained unchanged in the early years of the new era, although the notion of class struggle had become out of date.

Stories Using Modern Technology

In realising the 'four modernisations,' science and technology are regarded as vitally important educational elements in Chinese children's literature in the post-Mao period. However, most of the stories supposed to advocate science and technology are neither scientific nor educational. In 'Piggy Changes Head' (1986, pp. 81-83),2 which borrows characters from a classical Chinese novel Monkey King well known to Chinese children, Piggy wanted a smart brain. A white-bearded doctor was most pleased to treat Piggy. Together, they tricked Monkey King to go into a hospital, where both Piggy and Monkey King lost consciousness after smelling a kind of perfume. The white-bearded doctor took out a laser knife. He pressed a button and, without a drop of blood, cut off both Piggy's and Monkey King's heads. He put the monkey head on the pig body and the pig head on the monkey body. When the two awoke, both were surprised to see each other. Both claimed to be Monkey King. The doctor then had to change their heads back. This time he also put a little computer in Piggy's head. When Piggy came to, he became a very smart new Piggy!

If this story tries to impress on children the mighty power of technology, then the story 'Playing Chess with a Machine' (pp. 96-99) appears to achieve a totally opposite purpose. A big foreign boss was very fond of playing chess but was always beaten. So he spent lots of money in building a robot, programmed with all the chess tactics. The robot beat the best international players, one after another, until a Chinese girl came to challenge it. The Chinese girl found that the robot had all the standard methods, so she used a method that had never been used before. The robot simply didn't know what was going on and made one mistake after another. The Chinese girl started an overall assault. She was just about to place the robot's king in checkmate when the robot raised its two arms to surrender. Besides science and technology, this story clearly has nationalist overtones as well. In stories like the two examples used above, the mere mentioning of words like 'robot,' 'computer,' 'laser,' 'spaceship,' 'electrical button,' and other gadgets does make things sound more scientific and technological, but it is most obvious that this category is still the weakest in Stories for 365 Nights.

Stories of Famous People That Encourage Children to Study Hard

A most apparent aspect of the anthology is to encourage children to study hard. A typical story would be one of some very well-known scientist, inventor, or statesman: 'The Story of Li Siguang,' 'The Story of Edison,' 'Luban Learns Carpentry,' 'The Story of Newton,' 'The Story of Gao Shiqi When He Was a Child,' 'The Story of Chen Jingrun,' 'The Story of Drawing Eggs,' 'The Story of Archimedes,' and so on. These stories often tell how these scientists were so concentrated on their research that they became extraordinarily forgetful about other things. They either mistook a watch for an egg and put it in a pot to boil or simply forgot whether they had eaten at all. They sometimes read books in a library and totally forgot the time and, therefore, were locked in; some-times they left visitors to look after themselves and carried on experiments in the laboratory. 'The Story of Gao Shiqi When He Was a Child' (p. 27) tells that a good pupil should concentrate entirely on study during class time. When a pupil asked Gao in class whether they were good friends or not, and why Gao didn't talk to him, Gao replied, 'After class we are good friends and play together, but in class we are strangers.'

Children's Stories from the Mid-1980s to the Mid-1990s

The legacy of using children's literature as a tool for strict moral and political education in the previous three decades was still evident in Stories for 365 Nights, which was only the first step on a very long march. Soon, writers began to test new waters. In the following fifteen years, while children's literature was still used as an educational tool, writers gradually established a set of new values in children's literature, entirely different from those of the previous thirty years. Literary works for Chinese children during these fifteen years can be placed according to their political and moral themes in the following four categories.

New Relationships

One of the most obvious changes is in the attitude towards animals. First of all, in children's stories and poems animals are no longer treated as if they can be divided into classes like human beings. Mice and foxes are not always enemies. They can even be helpful too. For example, in Chen Miaohai's 'Ladder Bridge' (1994, pp. 72-85), when a rabbit, a monkey, a lamb, and a piglet cannot cross a river and begin to cry, it is a little fox who not only calms them down but also finds a solution to the problem by suggesting they use a ladder to build a bridge. In Wang Wenxin's 'A Little Brother of Big Size and a Big Brother of Small Size' (1994, pp. 86-97), a mouse mobilises all his mice friends to rescue his friend, a bear, who falls into a trap. There is no doubt that these works advocate friendship and teamwork; on the other hand, they represent the new human relationships, free from the notion of class struggle. Sparrows, who became a public enemy in 'the campaign to eliminate four pests' launched by Mao Zedong in the 1950s, certainly need to be rehabilitated. That is precisely what the poem 'A little Sparrow' tries to do:

     When green seedlings come out of the earth,
     a little sparrow arrives.
     You fly here, there and everywhere,
     to catch harmful insects from the crops.
     You also cause a problem.
     When you see grains,
     you eat them too.
     Hey, little sparrow,
     please change your bad habit,
     and only do the good things for farmers.
     Then I would like you even more.
                                   (1984 pp. 11-12)

Even hunters are reluctant to kill now. 'The Confession of a Hunter's Child' (1988) is a poem about a boy who refuses to shoot a hare and a doe. He enjoys the peace of the forest and the beauty of nature so much that he forgets that he is a hunter:

     but today
     I refuse to shoot
     It would destroy a fairytale of the forest
     that Andersen outlined for me.
                                        (p. 804)

The moral values of kindness, sympathy, and mercy advocated by these stories certainly have much more to do with relationships between human beings than human relationships with animals. It appears that after all these years, Chinese children's literature has begun to return to what was advocated seventy years ago in the New Culture Movement—'love,' eternal and universal. In a new political and moral environment like this, it is natural to hear the call to stop killing and violence among human beings, which goes against the spirit of belligerent Communism. The long poem 'It Is Children's Day Today' (1996) represents this new trend:

     Today is Children's Day
     How shall we celebrate it?
     With flowers?
     With colourful ribbons?
     With songs?
     With dances?
     No! Today
     we shall present 'petition' to commemorate Children's Day:
     Please produce toys instead of atom bombs—
     war is still threatening peace;
     Turn weaponry factories into playgrounds—
     violence is still destroying harmony and safety;
     Turn casinos into primary schools—
     corruption is still invading civilisation;
     Produce bread instead of strong alcoholic drinks—
     starvation is still devouring young lives.
     Adults, who once had childhood,
     please do these things.
     You must understand—
     to protect children is to protect this globe.
     When these wishes are fulfilled,
     we shall happily announce:
          Today is a day for all humanity.
                                        (pp. 276-277)
Open Door Policy

To achieve the 'four modernisations,' China needs Western technology and ideas. Chinese children's literature follows the Party's 'open door policy.' It is reminiscent of the New Culture Movement, when intellectuals turned to the West for social remedies. It is common to see Western names such as 'John,' 'Mary,' 'Elizabeth,' 'Michael,' and so on in stories for Chinese children during this period. Children in capitalist societies no longer live a miserable life. The socialist Albania, China's only friend in Europe in the 1960s, has disappeared completely from children's songs, while children from more developed countries such as France, USA and Britain frequent Chinese children's stories. In these stories, children no longer talk about fighting imperialists or winning an international proletarian revolution, but about keeping peace, eliminating hunger, establishing friendship, and so on, like the poem mentioned above. The 'open door policy' reflected in children's literature in this period has two noticeable features: first, Chinese children are eager to learn from other countries; and second, China has to show to other countries that their children are just as free as elsewhere. Gu Siyong's experience in France, told as 'In a Primary School in Paris' (1982), was first published in Children's Literature, a most prestigious national children's literature magazine targeted at children approximately between nine and twelve years old. It was later selected in an anthology, The Best of Chinese Children's Literature: Poems, Fables, and Essays (1996, pp. 525-529).

Chen Danyan's 'Chinese Girls,' which was published in Juvenile Literature (1985), a prestigious Shanghai monthly periodical for juveniles approximately between ten and fifteen years old, is a prize-winning essay (p. 593). The author accompanied a group of American high school students to visit a Chinese secondary school in Shanghai. Those inquisitive American girls asked her what Chinese girls were like. The question reminded the author of her own school days and the revolutionary songs that she and her friends liked to sing. In those days, the author and her friends, who were all teenage girls, often sang some less militant revolutionary songs in the classroom after school when all the boys had left. But they were soon accused of being sentimental like the petty bourgeoisie, and their singing was said to be like the calling of wild cats. Ever since then, she had lost confidence in herself. When she had to talk publicly, she would think that her voice sounded like that of a wild cat. But now, before her eyes were a group of Chinese girls wearing pale blue skirts dancing to lively music. The author could not help admiring, 'This is the beauty of life, a beauty at the beginning of youth.' An American girl, Joan, said, 'Before I came, I was told that China is not a free country. Control is very strict. People are not allowed to talk as they please. Chinese people, they say, seldom laugh.' A Chinese girl told her, 'We laugh every day. We sing every day.' Joan was impressed. 'How open!' she said. For the sentence 'how open,' the author used English, and then she wrote that 'open' (in English) was a wonderful expression (p. 593).

Chen Danyan's 'Chinese Girls' compares and contrasts school life of girls before and after the Cultural Revolution. The openness is indisputable. However, the restriction of girls' freedom is rooted more in the traditional Confucian moral principles than in the Marxist theory of proletarian revolution and class struggle.

New Aspirations

In the 1950s and 1960s, children were encouraged to become ordinary workers, peasants, and soldiers to build and defend the socialist motherland. They were told to go wherever they were most needed, hence The Story of Han Meimei, which offers an example of a secondary school graduate undertaking agricultural work. In this new period of modernisation, to encourage children to be ordinary labourers appears to aim too low. The new trend is to encourage them to climb the peaks of science and technology, as presented in Stories for 365 Nights. Wei Binghai's long poem, 'Worry and Confidence,' published in 1984, is another example that best presents this new aspiration:

     In this era to advance in science,
     there is good news of invention and breakthrough every day.
     As I sincerely congratulate these successful people,
     I always have some concern and worry in my mind.
     The pearl on the crown of mathematics has already been picked up;
     The moon and Mars have already been left with some footprints;
     The mystery of UFOs, which I am fascinated with,
     will be solved soon, I am afraid.
     All the difficult problems will be solved by human beings.
     It is said the popularisation of robots is close too.
     What can I do when I grow up?
     It is most disappointing that all I can do is just to press the buttons only.
     I am appealing to grown-ups:
     please leave some great events for us children to do.
     I put my idea in my essay, and that night
     my teacher came to talk to me.
     He pointed to the Milky Way in the sky and asked me:
     'How many advanced lives are there on those stars?'
     He picked up a little wild flower and told me,
     'There are endless secrets even in this little flower.'
     He asked me many other questions,
     to which all I could do was to shake my head.
     He said, 'The treasure cave of science is bottomless.
     The deeper you go, the more treasure you will find.'
     His words were like an evening breeze sweeping away the clouds around the moon.
     I feel my mind is more open and I am more confident:
     'Let the grown-ups try their best,
     and we are their strong reserve force.'
                                      (pp. 17-18)

The new aspirations are not limited to science and technology. In the cause of the 'four modernisations,' children are encouraged to contribute more than ordinary labourers, and their contributions do not have to be in the field of science; they can be in the field of 'democracy' as well. Ke Yan's 'If I Were the Mayor,' published in 1988, subtly tackles the issue of democracy:

     If I became the mayor,
     my first job would be to build many many new houses
     so that the residents of the city can move out of their tiny homes.
     They could smile when getting up in the morning and facing the rising sun
     My next job would be to advertise for talented people,
     who are capable of increasing production while decreasing pollution,
     who are capable of better city planning
     instead of digging and filling holes everywhere in town all day long,
     and who were capable of bringing trees and birds back to the city
     My next job would be to visit the food market myself to see
     if the products were of good quality and of large variety,
     if the queue to buy grain is too long,
     if the policeman is rude to an old lady,
     and if the shop assistants are busy chatting with one another
     ignoring the customers …
     The most important thing is to open the door of my office
     and my secretary would arrange visits of the masses to my office
     so that they could tell me
     what I haven't thought of
     and what I have overlooked.
                                       (pp. 814-815)

By presenting a picture of the ideal city, the poem is an indirect criticism of reality. It is not only a kind of exposure of the existing problems but also a subtle attack on the method of appointing the current mayor, who obviously does not open the door of the office to listen to the masses. This poem somehow encourages children to develop a kind of political ambition on the moral value of democracy, which duly reflected the political atmosphere before the 1989 democracy movement. On the whole, children in this new period are encouraged to become 'somebody' instead of ordinary labourers, and children's literature reflects this new trend. In another poem of Wei Binghai, 'Worships,' the dream to become some kind of celebrity is most evident:

     I worship many celebrities,
     who are scientists, poets, sports stars …
     I have copied their words,
     and every word they said is like a gem to me.
     They are the goal in my life.
                                              (pp. 73-74)
To Be Rich Is Glorious

Traditionally, children's books hesitated to encourage children to engage in commercial dealings, although they always implied that books were the doorstep to fame and wealth. Confucius said, 'The mind of a superior man is conversant with righteousness; the mind of a mean man is conversant with gain' (1971, p. 170).6 However, the post-Mao China was rapidly becoming a highly commercialised society, as Fairbank and Goldman (1998) note:

During the post-Mao era China's predominantly rural and relatively poor economy underwent a massive transition from a command to a market economy and from a predominantly agricultural-based to an increasingly urbanised economy.

                                         (p. 410)

Deng Xiaoping's well-known slogan 'to get rich is glorious' (p. 412) has made its presence felt in children's literature, as it does everywhere in China. 'Money' is no longer a dirty word. One good example is Zhuang Zhiming's 'Little Fortune God' (1985), published in Children's Literature, which, as mentioned above, is a most prestigious national children's literature journal targeted at children approximately between nine and twelve years old. It is about a junior secondary school student, Shen Hong, who is full of wonderful ideas to make his home village rich. He was studying in the provincial capital city. During his school holiday, he came back to his remote village and convinced the chief of the village to spend a thousand Yuan on an advertisement in the major newspaper about the beautiful scenery around their village to attract tourists. The following is the conversation between Shen Hong and his friends, two village boys:

'Da Shan,' said Shen Hong confidently, 'don't you worry about that. All you need to worry about is handling the money, which will be like a flood, swamping our village.'

'What shall we do with that much money?' Xiao Quan became alarmed.

'Use it to build houses and to get married. Everything needs lots of money,' Da Shan said.


'In the future,' Xiao Quan cannot wait for Shen Hong to finish, 'our money will be piled up like a huge mountain.'

'Yes, we will have mountains of gold and silver,' Shen Hong went on, 'and when people become rich, our nation will become strong. Only then, can we realise the "four modernisations.'"

'You are indeed our Fortune God. Please come back to join us as soon as you finish your junior secondary school,' said Xiao Quan.

                                             (p. 73)

It was not just a dream. At the end of the story, tourists, one group after another, swamped their village. Shen Hong is presented in this story as a young man with a talent for marketing as well as investment. But, somehow his main concern appears to be with doing the right thing for the village and the 'four modernisations' of the motherland rather than selfish personal gain; therefore he is still a superior man according to the traditional moral values as well as a revolutionary successor because of his contribution to the noble cause of socialist modernisation.

The second example is Yan Zhengguo's 'Two Grocery Stalls' (1990), which appeared in Good Children, a magazine for lower primary school children under eight years of age. The following is a summary of the story:

Two bear brothers run two grocery stalls on either side of the road. One is called 'Big Bear Grocery Stall' and the other 'Little Bear Grocery Stall.' They sell exactly the same products, such as oil, salt, soy sauce, vinegar, tea, and so on. Neither business is good. Big Bear starts to yell beside his stall, 'Come on, I have the best oil! Don't miss the opportunity!' Little Bear immediately follows suit, 'I have the best oil. Don't buy his oil, because he has poured rice soup into his oil. His vinegar is mixed with water, and he has put tree leaves into his tea leaves. Come to buy at my stall. I can assure you the best quality.' Big Bear is upset, 'Don't believe him. He has mixed his salt with wheat flower, and in his soy sauce, there is stinking dog shit.' All the citizens of the animal town come out to watch these two brothers compete with each other. The two brothers first accuse each other, then call each other names, and finally begin to fight. Curious citizens buy a small amount from both stalls to see who is telling the truth, but find that none of the accusations are true. The next day, the two bear brothers begin a price war. They start from 10% discount and finish at 40% discount. Little Bear can't afford to continue this price war, and has to shut down his business. Everyone rushes to Big Bear's stall to pick up some good bargains. Soon everything in Big Bear's stall is sold out. He asks his customers to wait, and he says he will go to the back room to bring out more goods for sale. At this moment, Detective Monkey orders Elephant to dig up the road between the two stalls. Citizens are shocked to find that there is a tunnel linking the two stalls. The two bear brothers are running the same business. All the fuss of fighting and price war are just their marketing strategies. At the end, the two of them are expelled from the animal town.

                                        (pp. 1-2)

This story reflects the reality of a highly commercialised society as well as a decline of moral standards in this society. Ostensibly, it attacks the lack of moral principles in business, but subtly it admires the smartness of the two bears. The most amazing feature of this story is the depiction of highly sophisticated marketing strategies in a story targeting children under eight. This further implies that the 'market economy' and 'to get rich is glorious' have become just part of life for everyone in China.

Concluding Comments

In China today, 'class struggle' has been replaced by 'four modernisations,' and ideological purity has given way to pragmatism. In children's literature, 'study hard for the modernisation of the motherland' has been promoted to the top of the priority list of moral education, and science and technology are thought to be the two keys to this great task. To educate the 'only child' with the ideas of sharing, collectiveness, and team work as well as learning how to look after themselves has never been so urgent. In the post-Mao period, the state has become more flexible, cautious and subtle about using children's literature for its political purposes. Revolution, communism, socialism, Marxism, and Mao Zedong Thought have become symbols that are still used to legitimise the status of the government in its propaganda machine. However, these terms no longer appear in children's literature. Parents of the only-child generation, who themselves experienced compulsory political indoctrination, have a very strong negative reaction toward overt political and moralistic terms and are simply not interested in buying books containing such terms for their children to read. Nevertheless, 'four modernisations' and the state-endorsed commercialism have gradually filled the ideological vacuum left by the decline of faith in Maoist radical ideas of revolution.


1. Jane Parish Yang, 'A Change in the Family: The Image of the Family in Contemporary Chinese Children's Literature, 1949–1993'.

2. Bing Zi, 'Piggy Changes Head'.

3. Fan Fajia, 'A Little Sparrow'.

4. Jiedi Majia, 'The Confession of a Hunter's Child'.

5. Jin Mu, 'It Is Children's Day Today'.

6. James Legge, The Chinese Classic.


Bing Zi, 'Piggy Changes Head' (Zhubajie Huan Naodai), in Stories for 365 Nights (365 Ye Gushi), vol. I, Lu Bing, ed., pp. 81-83. Shanghai: Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 1986.

Chen Danyan, 'Chinese Girls' (Zhongguo Shaonu), Juvenile Literature (Shaonian Wenyi), 1985, 3, Shanghai: Shaonian Wenyi Chubanshe, selected in Jin Bo, Jin Jiang, and Fan Fajia, eds., The Best of Chinese Children's Literature, Poems, Fables and Essays (Zhongguo Ertongwenxue Zuojia Chengmingzuo, Tongshi, Yuyan, Sanwenxuan), pp. 588-593. Hefei: Anhui Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 1996.

Chen Miaohai, 'Ladder Bridge' (Tizi Qiao), in A Kitten's Birthday, Ju Ping Tells Stories to Children (Xiaomaomimi Guo Shengri, Juping Gei Baobao Jiang Gushi), Ju Ping, ed., pp. 72-85. Beijing: Zhongguo Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 1994.

Deng Xiaoping, Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping (1975–1982). Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1984.

Fairbank, John K, and Merle Goldman, China, A New History. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998.

Fan Fajia, Buguniao. Hefei: Anhui Renmin Chubanshe, 1984.

Farquhar, Mary, Children's Literature in China—From Lu Xun to Mao Zedong. Armonk, NY: An East Gate Book, M. E. Sharp, 1999.

Gu Siyong, 'In a Primary School in Paris' (Zai Bali de Xiaoxuexiao Li), Children's Literature (Ertong Wenxue), 1982, 3. Beijing: Ertong Wenxue Chubanshe; selected in Jin Bo, Jin Jiang, and Fan Fajia, eds., The Best of Chinese Children's Literature, Poems, Fables and Essays (Zhongguo Ertongwenxue Zuojia Chengmingzuo, Tongshi, Yuyan, Sanwenxuan), pp. 525-529. Hefei: Anhui Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 1996.

Jiang Feng, ed., Chinese Children's Literature, Theory II (Zbongguo Ertong Wenxue Daxi, Lilun II), Shanxi: Xiwang Chubanshe, 1988.

Jiedi Majia, 'The Confession of a Hunter's Child' (Yige Lieren Haizi de Zibai), in Chinese Children's Literature, Poetry II (Zhongguo Ertong Wenxue Daxi, Shige II), Jiang Feng, ed., p. 804. Shanxi: Xiwang Chubanshe, 1988.

Jin Bo, Jin Jiang, and Fan Fajia, eds., The Best of Chinese Children's Literature, Poems, Fables and Essays (Zhongguo Ertongwenxue Zuojia Chengmingzuo, Tongshi, Yuyan, Sanwenxuan). Hefei: Anhui Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 1996.

Jin Mu, 'It Is Children's Day Today', in The Best of Chinese Children's Literature, Poems, Fables and Essays (Zhongguo Ertongwenxue Zuojia Chengming-zuo, Tongshi, Yuyan, Sanwenxuan), Jin Bo, Jin Jiang, and Fan Fajia, eds., pp. 276-277. Hefei: Anhui Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 1996.

Ke Yan, 'If I Were the Mayor,' in Chinese Children's Literature, Poetry II (Zhongguo Ertong Wenxue Daxi, Shige II), Jiang Feng, ed., pp. 814-815. Shanxi: Xiwang Chubanshe, 1988.

Legge, James, The Chinese Classic, vol. I. Taibei: Wenshize Chubanshe, 1971.

Lu Bing, ed., Stories for 365 Nights (365 Ye Gushi), vol. I. Shanghai: Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 1986.

Lu Bing, 'A Literature to Educate Children' (Jiaoyu Ertong de Wenxue), in Chinese Children's Literature, Theory II (Zhongguo Ertong Wenxue Daxi, Lilun II), Jiang Feng, ed., pp. 19-36. Shanxi: Xiwang Chubanshe, 1988.

Mao Zedong, Selected Works of Mao Zedong. Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1967.

Wang Wenxin, 'A Little Brother of Big Size and a Big Brother of Small Size' (Da Gezi Didi He Xiao Gezi Gege), in A Kitten's Birthday, Ju Ping Tells Stories to Children (Xiaomaomimi Guo Shengri, Juping Gei Baobao Jiang Gushi), Ju Ping, ed., pp. 86-97. Beijing: Zhongguo Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 1994.

Wei Binghai, 'Worry and Confidence,' Children's Literature (Ertong Wenxue), 1984, 11, 17-18. Beijing: Ertong Wenxue Chubanshe.

Yan Zhengguo, Two Grocery Stalls (Liangge Zahuo Tan), Good Children (Hao Ertong), 1990, 6, 1-2. Shanghai: Shanghai Shaonian Bao.

Yang, Jane Parish, 'A Change in the Family: The Image of the Family in Contemporary Chinese Children's Literature, 1949–1993,' Children's Literature, 1998, 26, 86-104.

Zhuang Zhiming, 'Little Fortune God' (Xiao Caishen Ye), Children's Literature (Ertong Wenxue), 1985, 1, 72-74. Beijing: Ertong Wenxue Chubanshe.

Gaby Thomson-Wohlgemuth (essay date spring 2005)

SOURCE: Thomson-Wohlgemuth, Gaby. "About Official and Unofficial Addressing in East German Children's Literature." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 30, no. 1 (spring 2005): 32-52.

[In the following essay, Thomson-Wohlgemuth reflects on how children's literature in the formerly communist-controlled East Germany often subtly addressed two separate audiences: the officially sanctioned children's market as well as adults who potentially disagreed with facets of East German society.]

In 1989, the author Günter Saalmann, from the German Democratic Republic (GDR), presented a book during a symposium at a children's book fair in France. The story he had written was a parable classified for children twelve and older. Seen in a wider context, this story appeared to be quite controversial, especially given that the GDR was still in existence at that time. The story revolves around a race between two steamships. Showing trust in their captain, the crew of the one ship agrees to enter the race; however they soon come to realize the race is a lost cause and—one by one—jump into the water to find salvation on dry land. Their captain, nevertheless, blind with ambition, does not want to admit defeat and even begins to burn the ship itself in order to create more steam and catch up with the other ship (Havekost 27). Although this parable was perfectly suitable for teaching young people a moral, it was clearly targeted at readers with sufficient knowledge and experience to see this as a metaphor for the two Germanys that were in competition with each other at the time; it particularly addressed East German readers who were aware of the similarity between the trailing steamship and the situation in their own country, for whom this image would have resonated with their own feelings about the GDR.

In the history of East German children's literature (ChL), the phenomenon of addressing texts to two or more audiences was in no way uncommon, and was exploited by many authors quite readily. What, however, were the reasons for authors to intentionally resort to ChL in order to express their thoughts, beliefs, and concerns? What made them use this particular genre to reach the adult reader? And most importantly, how could they be sure adults would read texts that were addressed primarily to children? In order to understand what provoked such a development, it becomes necessary to reexamine the roots of East German ChL. Therefore, the key parameters of a socialist, and in particular the East German, ChL will be explained briefly. Then, the strategies and developments that were employed to change the nature of ChL and bring it on a par with adult literature will be illustrated. Finally, the issues related to sociopolitical criticism about East German society found in texts for children will be discussed.


According to Marxist-Leninist teaching, state systems follow one another in a historically predestined sequence, and socialism is deemed the logical and historically necessary stage before the advent of communism. Thus, after having overcome the period of capitalism, the GDR regarded itself as a socialist society, heading towards the 'communist utopia.' Within this historical scenario, it was believed that only people embodying a particular set of characteristics would be capable of carrying the state forward towards communism. Characteristics of typical socialist personalities were, for instance, finding fulfilment in being part of a collective rather than displaying individuality, partaking in social and political life, and in the willingness to fight for socialism and their country, which meant creating bonds with people from other socialist states and defending their country against all capitalist, imperialist, or fascist influence. Given the importance of such personalities for the future of the country, shaping a socialist consciousness and creating true 'socialist personalities' were deemed vital.

In the subsequent process of societal reengineering, literature was one medium through which long-lasting changes were hoped for. Literature for children was no exception. ChL was given a key role in educating its readers. As a result, children's books were attributed a function, further underpinning the didacticism that has been one of ChL's main characteristics over centuries.

1. The main concept on which socialist ChL was based derived from the notion that adults and children are equal. Living in the same reality, both were seen as partners in the class struggle, as well as partners in building a new kind of society—i.e. a socialist, and later communist, society. Further hopes were placed on children, for they represented the future, and could carry the 'new' values into the future. Hence, the conception of children was not one of "half-finished adults" (Berger 48, my translation here and throughout), but of beings integrated into society who deserved to be taken seriously. For this reason, it was decided that their literature had to deal with the same content and be of as high a quality as literature for adults.

2. From this idea, a second maxim was derived: all literature, including ChL, had to obey the concept of Socialist Realism, which meant that every text had to be set in a socialist reality, comply with a particular set of criteria (e.g. the postulates of optimism, humanism, partiality to the party's goals), and portray situations typical of socialist life. Although narrowly defined in the 1940s and '50s, the concept of Socialist Realism did not remain static, but, from the 1960s onward, experienced constant shifts in its definition, at times widening and at others narrowing its scope of interpretation. Fervent debates took place among cultural and political functionaries and intellectuals about the meaning of 'reality' and 'truth' and what these concepts meant for socialism. This discourse began to mount in the 1970s and 1980s, when it became evident that socialism as practiced in the GDR did not match the expectation of the people. As will be shown, these debates found expression in literature, and ChL also began to reflect the emerging discontent among the populace.

3. All literature was given the mission of instilling a progressive spirit and ethos in the readers and of contributing to shaping their consciousnesses, with the ultimate goal of creating, as has been mentioned before, the 'socialist personality.' Hence, providing pleasure was only one task books had to fulfill. The principal function was to demonstrate proper socialist behavior and attitudes to the readers (adults and children alike). So-called positive heroes were employed as role models, with whom the readers were expected to identify. Here too it was debated vehemently which characteristics a typical positive hero should display; e.g. was a positive hero allowed to have shortcomings at all and, if so, what was the right mixture and degree. Similar to the concept of Socialist Realism, the notion of the 'positive hero' was not fixed, but began to change (again from the 1960s) and was widened to embrace new features.

4. What has been said so far leads to the fourth principle: ChL was to form part of the national literature. Unlike the bourgeois society, where ChL was placed into "the ghetto of the small literature" (Richter, "Kinderliteratur und Kinderliteraturforschung" 197), socialism claimed to attach the same value to ChL as it did to adult literature, and strove to embed it firmly into mainstream literature. Indeed, it can be argued that East German ChL passed through the same developments as adult literature and, in some instances, even triggered new movements. It is true that, throughout the 40 years of the GDR's existence, several educationalists and theorists were warning that the aim of integration into the national literature had not yet been reached and that ChL was still packaged pedagogy and was, therefore, measured against a different standard than adult literature. However, it seems evident that the society made tireless efforts to increase the quality of ChL in order to overcome the gap between adult and children's literature, and soon the first signs of an affiliation of the two systems became discernible.

From the outset, care had been taken that the production of books for young readers was in the hands of publishers who not only espoused the "correct" ideology, but were competent and familiar with issues of literature, education, and child psychology. Apart from a handful of small private publishers, two big state publishing houses were founded; the Kinderbuchverlag in 1949 (a publishing house for two- to fourteen-year-olds) and, in 1946, the Verlag Neues Leben (for adolescents ages fourteen and up). In the course of time, various institutions were founded to: formulate scientific theories; carry out research in the field and coordinate research and scientific publications; and provide a repository of relevant data. These were the Leitinstitut für Kinderliteratur in 1969, and Kuratorium sozialistischer Kinder- und Jugendliteratur in 1970. In 1963, Beiträge zur Kinder-und Jugendliteratur, a journal dealing with ChL, had been launched. In earlier years, the Tage der Kinderliteratur (ChL Days), an annual event which took place in a different location every year, was introduced. This attracted hundreds of authors, illustrators, translators, publishers, teachers, librarians, parents, and—last but not least—readers. Accompanying these developments was the organization of academic conferences (Theoretische Konferenzen anläßlich der Tage der Kinderliteratur), bringing together experts and professionals from the field—all with the aim of stimulating higher awareness of ChL within East German society.

Furthermore, from the very early days, a special 'Department of Children's Literature' (Sektion Kinder- und Jugendliteratur) was established within the prestigious East German Writers' Association. This department was concerned with planning and organizing events, representing topical matters of ChL at general literature meetings, and training and offering financial support to authors. Also demonstrating the high status of ChL in society was its association with leading names in the world of art and culture, such as Klaus Höpcke, vice-Minister of Culture, who acted as the president of the Kuratorium sozialistischer Kinder- und Jugendliteratur. Joachim Nowotny, Gerhard Holtz-Baumert and Günter Görlich, all authors of both children's and adult books, were members of the executive committee of the East German Writers' Association. Uwe Kant, a famous author of ChL and the brother of Hermann Kant, the long-term president of the East German Writers' Association, was also in the Association.

Toward New Heights

An important aim of the publishing houses was to commission accomplished authors in order to develop and produce good, high quality books; furthermore annual competitions were held in order to attract new talent. Also, more importantly, publishers approached authors of adult literature, asking for their cooperation in producing new literature, with the hope of achieving further alignment with the adult system. The very first publication by Kinderbuchverlag, for instance, was a small book written by the renowned playwright Bertolt Brecht (Der verwundete Sokrates, 1949). In Das sozialistische Menschenbild, East German children's literary theorist Manfred Altner envisaged an affiliation of the children's and the adult's literary system by paying attention to two factors; firstly, by expanding children's real-life experience through learning opportunities in literature; secondly, through a heightened concentration on linguistic devices. It was thought that marrying the two would lead to a continuous growth of aesthetic skills in young people and would cause ChL to become, on the one hand, "a means of ideological debate, emotional enrichment and a tool to conquer reality and [on the other], by avoiding every childish notion, it also becomes accessible to the adult reader and offers equal artistic pleasure to both child and adult" (10).

It is debatable to what degree an actual affiliation with adult literature was achieved back in the 1950s, as the major output of publications of that decade was of a didactic nature, following the prescribed standard formula of integrating the individual into the uniformity of a socialist collective. Undoubtedly, however, by 1954, only five years after constituting the state, efforts in ChL began to bear fruit. In this year, two books initially classed as children's books, published by Kinderbuchverlag, appeared on the market. Both of them had been written by prominent socialist authors of adult literature: Ludwig Renn (Trini) and Erwin Strittmatter (Tinko).

The reaction to both books was mixed. Whereas many hailed them as a new type of ChL, and as having lifted children's books' standards more closely to adult literature, some critical voices proclaimed them to be adult books and unsuitable for children. It was, however, this shift away from the usual triteness of the bourgeois children's book genre that led people to believe that the bar for a child's comprehension was put too high. Commensurate with the socialist literary paradigm, the child protagonist was to be depicted in a simplistic and unambiguous way without depicting any inner conflict (Richter, "Entwicklungslinien" 293), who realizes unavoidably the advantages of becoming part of a socialist collective. Although moving towards the socialist goal, Triniand Tinko did not follow this pattern in terms of simplicity and lack of reflection. As in his adult books, Renn described and commented on the hero's (Trini's) adventures during the Mexican liberation struggle as a factual narrative, without any emotionalizing or persuasiveness, providing plenty of historical and economic background knowledge. Tinko, on the other hand, set against a local backdrop, described collectivisation, and the abolition of private ownership, in agriculture. Living in the midst of these changes, Tinko, the naive hero, is permanently torn between the old order (represented by his grandfather) and the new (represented by his father). The reader experiences him as a thinking boy, with a range of emotions, who suffers under these conflicts and who sees the world as full of problems and contradictions. The technique of inner monologue is used to illustrate how the boy tries to understand, reason, and reflect on what is happening around him. The book finishes on a melancholic note with the death of the grandfather, indicating the end of the old era and the beginning of a progressive kind of society.

Both these books were criticized on two levels; firstly, they did not appear to fulfill their mission as educative examples. For example, in the case of Trini, the narration, full of facts and historical descriptions, was said to marginalize the child hero and, thus, hinder the reader's process of identification. Secondly, both books were deemed too complex and, hence, incomprehensible to children, particularly Tinko's contemplations throughout the storyline. Despite these criticisms, there was consensus that the publication of Trini and Tinko had changed ChL and that East German ChL was now on its way to becoming equally as important to the national culture as literature written exclusively for adults. For the first time, it had been "demonstrated what is possible in our ChL" (Konzag 101). The fact that Tinko was not only published by the children's book publisher Kinderbuchverlag, but also by Aufbauverlag (the country's biggest and most prestigious publishing house for contemporary adult literature), appeared to underpin this notion. The ultimate confirmation of having successfully crossed the border into adult literature came in 1955, when both authors were awarded the National Prize for Literature, Strittmatter for Tinko and Renn for his complete works (with a special mention of his children's book Trini).

After Trini and Tinko, the direction of ChL was clear and the path was set. Apart from the necessity of obeying the prescribed paradigm of Socialist Realism, thus showing socialist values in a favorable and victorious light, the goal was to fully remove the borderline between adult and children's fiction in order to make children's books a true and regular part of the national literature. Children's books were to match those for adults in terms of style, content, and quality. Child readers were to be challenged mentally, in order to advance their development as socialist personalities. In 1956, the Minister of Culture, Joh. R. Becher, formulated these concepts very clearly at the East German Writers' Conference. Admonishing the threefold bourgeois separation between highbrow literature, light reading matter, and children's literature, he warned that directions of children's taste, the development of their political reasoning, and their growth into valuable human beings and humane individuals depended on the works that these children were given to read. Therefore, as in adult literature, quality and greatness were also required in the literature for the young (qtd. in Altner, Das proletarische Kinderbuch 154).

What followed were years of attempts at pushing the boundaries and repeating past achievements. While publishers were willing to experiment with the genre, the official state maxim of keeping texts strictly realistic and avoiding new forms and narrative methods was constraining. Credit goes to the publishing houses and their editors for relentlessly looking for new talent and getting authors from the adult genre to agree to write books for children. Slowly, the reputation of (and standards within) ChL rose and, in fact, books increasingly resembling those for adults appeared on the market that were sought after for years after their first editions were published.

Another reason for pushing the standards forward was the enduring fear that ChL was not keeping up with the rapid developments in consciousness and intellect of the new socialist generation, and would therefore provide unsuitable reading matter. Major concerns of this kind were voiced at the Writers' Conference in 1962. When referring to the majority of the books of the past decade, conference participants described the portrayal of child heroes as clichéd, oversimplified, and emotionally and intellectually flat. It was pointed out that 'real' children had reached a higher level of consciousness and that ChL had not kept pace with their development of intellectual growth. Hence, bearing in mind that the desired goal of ChL was to be received as a part of the national literature, the efforts of the past were deemed to have failed. Authors and publishers were urged to place higher demands on the reasoning abilities of children. Indeed, the following years saw new forms and ways of expression, including two key characteristics: emphasis on the individual personality (as opposed to the prescribed uniformity) and, secondly, more stress on reflection and contemplation (as opposed to action), thus focusing on inner, rather than outer, experience. This process took ChL to the next step in closing the gap between itself and adult literature. The same aesthetic and linguistic criteria found in adult literature were sought after, with the exception of two elements: the child protagonists, despite their troubles and conflicts, were never left helpless, on their own, and without a ray of hope; and, no matter what the crises portrayed were, there had to be a solution to the conflict, or at least the possibility of a solution.

ChL had embraced a new function. No longer was attention paid to matters already solved or explained (e.g. that the integration of an erring person into a collective is acceptable because of the natural understanding of the superiority of socialism); rather, conflicts were left open and unsolved. The aim was no longer to point the readers into the 'right' direction; instead, problems to which the authors themselves did not have a solution were described, problems revolving around interpersonal relationships and conditions in the socialist reality. These critical authors aimed at disquieting and disturbing their readers, but also at emancipating them and stimulating them to greater awareness and action. They were addressing their books to a new kind of reader, a reader who was regarded more as a mature partner in the literary communication process than as a person who needed to be 'told.' It becomes evident that this "competent reader" (Richter, "Wirklichkeitsmodellierung," 189, 196, 198) has to be able to look back to a certain level of life experience, thus having gained knowledge and formed opinions. Although compliant with the postulate of endowing children with new life experience through books that they had not yet gained in real life, hence assisting in their development, this new approach tended to overtax the children's comprehension, as these books take for granted a certain fundamental level of experience and ability to understand.

Not only did literature for children and, with it, the persona of the reader, assume a new function; publishing houses equally expanded their production range. In 1977, Humbert detected an increase in the level of difficulty in books by the children's book publisher Kinderbuchverlag, an increase which had been taking place throughout the past decade (121). Similarly, Neues Leben published fiction which could no longer be classed as mere juvenile fiction (interestingly, the catalogue of the children's and youth book department in the Berlin Staatsbibliothek does not comprise the complete output by Neues Leben, since the department itself regarded some fiction published by Neues Leben as purely for adults). This change in publishers' product range over time appears to illustrate the tireless desire to stretch, even from an early age, readers' ability to comprehend and reflect on texts. Also, it seems to reveal a process in which all literary genres were steadily amalgamating into one entity, namely an all-embracing national literature.

"It is the difficult books that helped to generate and stabilise the respect for ChL in the public" (Pieper, "Interview" 101) and to foster interest in authors to write books for children. While this belief aided in creating more and more sophisticated and demanding texts, more and more doubt was articulated as to whether ChL was moving to a place where it could no longer be accessed by its primary audience, the children. Research on and surveys of children had shown that the "new dimension" (Pieper, "Jugendbuchverlage" 18) of the texts had acted as a barrier and that a growing number of children no longer found access to the meaning of several books. One of them is Uwe Kant's Das Klassenfest (1969); despite having a title (i.e. The Class Party) that would have been attractive to children, having a colorful blurb, and numbering only 156 pages, this was a book that was left unread by many children. Its narrative is a string of unconnected episodes in the form of inner monologues and memories. To make things even more complex, these reflections and contemplations belong not to one person, but to two people, and it is not apparent from the format of the book when a change in person takes place—it depends entirely on the reader's ability to see connections and to draw conclusions, which is made difficult since there is no overarching story in the first place. One of the criticisms accompanying the publication of this book was articulated by children's book critic Günter Ebert, who stated, "I am not quite sure how children will react to this, because, in general, nothing much happens in this book" (5). Other similarly demanding children's books were Horst Beseler's Jemand kommt (1972), Benno Plundra's Tambari (1969), Joachim Nowotny's Der Riese im Paradies (1969), and Alfred Wellm's Pugowitza (1975); the last of which was also officially deemed as suitable reading matter for adults and was, like Tinko, published by Kinderbuchverlag and Aufbauverlag.

The notion that "the reader grows with such books" (Konzag 100) had faced a setback. There were children, and none too few in number, who were overwhelmed by their roles as 'competent readers' and "communication partner[s] in a dialogue" (Lange 15). The more authors shifted focus onto the inner lives of their protagonists, calling on the psychoanalytical ability of the readers, the more their books were found either uninteresting or too difficult, requiring adults to act as mediators. It was, in the main, librarians and theorists who pointed to the rising need for meta-communication and who gave warnings not to forget the needs of the young readers. Ebert, e.g., postulated the trinity of "Action, Simplification, Identification" as a precept for children's books, calling into mind the main criteria of ChL (Richter, "Kinderliteratur und Kinderliteraturkritik" 115; Konzag 100). Nevertheless, many authors and editors refused to give up hard-won ground. Although quite prepared to admit that many texts were dealing with matters unfamiliar to, and challenging for, children, they insisted that those were areas that needed to be, and indeed could be, explored. Following Ebert's formula meant, they contended, producing popular books, but books that did not bring East German ChL forward. "Popular books do nothing for literary development. Too simplistic patterns will take us back presently to the patterns of bourgeois ChL, a ChL which, for decades, has done nothing other than rework simple, popular techniques" (Konzag 100). They claimed that, similar to adult readers, the tastes and comprehension levels differed widely among children and, thus, one objective should be to cater to the needs of all young readers. Children with more pronounced reading interests would certainly be deprived should they not have books that spoke to them at their level of development. Another goal, it was claimed, ought to be a consistent education of those readers who, as yet, had not reached that level. Also, it was argued that more demanding books were not written only for children, but were useful to readers of all ages. "ChL is part of the national literature not only because it is for children, but because adults can also read it with gain" (Konzag 100).

Lessons, however, were learned and compromises were made. While still aiming at books of high quality, it was recognised that children also needed books that caught their interest. Only if their need for entertainment and suspense were met would they fully dedicate their whole concentration and attention to a book. "I believe, one must not underestimate the desire of a great number of children for active heroes and one ought to seek suitable proportions between the inward, psychological and the outward action" (Schmidt 20). This fundamental fulfilment of children readers' particular needs guaranteed subsequently that they would be reading a book that interests them, while their education and learning with respect to unfamiliar and more difficult topics could be simultaneously secured.

Sociopolitical Criticism

Having reached the level of adult literature, following the same criteria with respect to language, subject matter, aesthetics, and having to avoid the same taboo subjects as adult literature, children's and juvenile books could be—and, unquestionably, were—read by adults, a fact which leads to a discussion of the sociopolitical critical element in East German ChL during its final two decades (the 1970s and '80s).

From the late 1960s, intellectuals had begun to express, through literature, their concerns about a society in which everybody and everything was uniform and had to function according to the same set pattern. Secondly, they wanted to make their readers aware of the growing degree of alienation and the poverty of human relations within East German society. Children's author Christa Kožik stood for many authors, both adults' and children's, when she stated in an interview:

[S]everal encounters within our society made me painfully aware that some of our children are diligent, well behaved, educated, but also quite 'tamed'. They subordinate too easily to every norm; their intellectual flexibility, their own thinking falls by the wayside. If we continue to press them into a net of dependence, they will become passive and unable to cope with life.

                                       (Siegel 48)

While the officially prescribed version of a socialist personality demanded the "energetic hero who can laugh, the natural and refreshing cooperative farmer, the fighter who is happy inwardly, who sings and enjoys his life" (Hager 1982, qtd. in Kuhnert, "Kinderliteratur" in Helden nach Plan 100-101), many authors saw it as their task to side with those individuals who displayed a different range of emotions; those of fear, doubt, scepticism, vulnerability, insecurity, and helplessness. For these authors, children were regarded as the most vulnerable in this social scenario and, increasingly, the authors became advocates for them, urging parents and adults to allow children their right to individuality and to take them seriously as the future of society.

One of many examples is Meta Morfoß (1975), a story written by Peter Hacks for eight-year-olds. Meta, a little girl, has the habit of changing her physical appearance, very much to the surprise, and sometimes the anger, of other people who do not recognize her anymore. No matter how much trouble Meta gives her, nor how many complaints she must put up with, Meta's aunt is of the firm belief that, regardless of what other people think, "I don't think that one can change her [Meta] much. And if … I could, I don't think I would have the right to do so" (38). In another example, Maxi, a girl hero, comes to this realization: "Why should I become something only in the future—am I not something already?" (Tetzner 97). These kinds of ideas were articulated with growing frequency.

The new heroes in ChL were no longer children who found immediate happiness through subordination to a collective, but whose shortcomings and mistakes were to help the young readers in understanding their own lives and believing that they themselves, despite their own shortcomings, were valuable members of society. However, not only did authors want to give children encouragement and advice in how to cope with reality, they also articulated warnings about areas in society that were not going according to plan, and for which a change of course was required. These warnings were aimed mainly at the adults in the audience, as they were responsible for the status quo and it was their responsibility to change things for the better. Increasingly, it became the norm for authors to direct their (children's) texts at two audiences, hoping "to encourage the adult reader and, thus, the entire society to follow social events with more alertness and to be more critical" (Richter, "Kinderliteratur und Kinderliteraturkritik" 112). One major perceived social deficiency in East Germany was that family life was disrupted because of parents who were increasingly neglecting their children by working long hours and doing housework or pursuing further education in the evening, resulting in being too tired, or having no time, to dedicate themselves to their children. Another complaint was the overly regimented life at school or in the Pioneer group, the organization set up for children under 14, where many orthodox, unsympathetic teachers discouraged children from asking questions and freely expressing opinions. A third concern was the perceived lack of communication in East German society, which was thought to be related to the rapid rise in intolerance. All of these areas stood in stark opposition to the propagated socialist slogan of 'warmth and security within a collective,' and pointed to dangers that were harmful to successfully raising children.

A number of children's books were centered on children's fate in East German society when they move to live somewhere else. In most cases, this meant leaving behind known, friendly environments (mostly villages) and moving to cold and anonymous towns. With dozens of new satellite towns built in the GDR, house relocation was a big part of everyday life for many East Germans. ChL responded by taking up this scenario as a topic, from which emerged a new genre within children's literature. Umzugsliteratur (literature about moving house) described how children experienced their new (often lonely, gray, and unsympathetic) surroundings. One of the books describing such a scenario may be taken to exemplify the urgency of the issue expressed. Karlchen Duckdich, by Alfred Wellm, published in 1977 and marketed for eight-year-old children, describes a day in a boy's life. Karlchen's family has moved from a happy life in a little village to a town, and now live on the eleventh floor of a block of high-rise flats. With this move, Karlchen's life has changed overnight. Whereas in the village he knew everyone, he is left on his own now, in a town he finds anonymous and hostile. Both his parents have full-time jobs and therefore have no time for him anymore. When his mother comes home in the evening, and Karlchen tries to tell her about his worries, she does not listen because she is in a rush to leave for her evening class. Long after she has left, his father still has not come home. Despite his young age, Karlchen has been given several responsibilities, such as doing small chores in the flat, looking after his little sister and tucking her into bed. On that particular day, we see Karlchen walk through the town holding his sister's hand. Although he greets everybody cheerfully, as he is used to doing from growing up in his village, nobody takes any notice of him here. While walking through the roads and explaining things to his sister, he keeps reflecting on his life, his fears, and his loneliness. At one stage he concludes that his life looks very different from his life in the village, which used to be full of adventures and happiness: "the day goes slowly" (Wellm, Karlchen 39). Arriving home, he prepares for the evening meal and the children wait for their mother to come home. As usual these days, she listens with only half an ear before rushing off again. Karlchen puts his little sister to bed and imagines what he will speak with his father about when he returns from work. He used to enjoy his conversations with father. Karlchen waits, "But father still did not come home" (56). Karlchen waits some more. "Later Karlchen took the sheet on which he had drawn a lion and … leaned it against the cup, so that father would see it immediately" (57). Then he goes to his room, counts his books and eventually sits down to write a letter to his grandmother, who stayed behind in the village, a letter about his fantasies and desires (which contrast sharply with his reality), and about escaping from the grayness of his everyday life. All of a sudden, the door opens and his little sister stands in the door. "He looked at her silently and thought: O Kristina! And then he was very glad that Kristina stood there in the door and that she was his sister" (62).

The book has a very realistic narrative, which is also quite melancholic and rather disturbing, and it leaves the reader thoughtful and wondering what will become of such children. These two words alone—"O Kristina"—demonstrate the heavy weight on the boy's shoulders and the forlornness and loneliness under which he suffers. Wellm has given him a rich inner life and describes convincingly the kind of thoughts that a young boy of Karlchen's age would have in such a situation. The way in which the boy dreams, wishes, fears, and rationalizes does not leave the reader untouched. It is evident that, with this book, Wellm had a second, adult audience in mind. His appeal not to leave children in such a vulnerable position and his warning of the dangers of a society that neglects their children in such a way stand out clearly. Plenty of books belonging to Umzugsliteratur appeared during this time. To name but a few: Günter Görlich's Den Wolken ein Stück näher (1971), Edith Bergner's Das Mädchen im roten Pullover (1974), and Benno Pludra's Insel der Schwäne (1980). All of these books had two aims: to help children settle into their new environment by showing them that they were not alone and to alert parents and, in general, adults to the difficulties of children in their new situation (a situation where they often had no say in the decision-making process) and to ask them not to leave the children on their own.

A few years later, in 1983, Wellm published another children's book with Kinderbuchverlag (Das Mädchen mit der Katze). In this book, Wellm juxtaposes a deaf girl with a crowd of holidaymakers. As opposed to the girl, the holidaymakers possess the capability of hearing; however, they have lost the ability to use their ears for interpersonal communication or for listening to themselves. By way of contrasting them to the deaf girl, whose other senses are very alive, Wellm alludes to the emotional stuntedness of GDR society. As with Wellm's earlier book, the publisher Kinderbuchverlag targeted Das Mädchen mit der Katze at the younger readers. However, as Richter mentions ("Von Timur" 37), developmental psychology has shown that children of such a young age are not capable of fully comprehending such depth in the narration and will only be partially able to follow the story. Hence, it appears that this book also addresses older readers who, based on their own life experience, can make full sense of the message of the text and will reflect and react to it.

Even in picture books for the youngest (e.g. Kurt David's Der Löwe mit der besonders schönen langen Mähne [1978] or Edith Bergner's Schinschilla [1979]), one can find socio-political criticism. To the child reader, these stories constituted fables illustrating general human values; the second addressee, the adult audience, who shared the author's knowledge, would have recognized the allegories of the East German state and its social scenario.

Werner Heiduczek's picture book, Der kleine häßliche Vogel (1973), works in such a fashion. Again, the adult reader would realize the two coexisting models in the text, whereas the child reader has access only to the more conventional model, that of a tale set in the realm of birds. The fable tells of a bird who can sing most wonderfully, but who is so utterly ugly that the other birds want neither to look at him nor speak with him. Thus, he resorts to singing only during the night, when it is dark and his appearance is concealed. A message about the lovely songs of the little bird that sings only in the night has been carried to the sun. This makes the sun very sad; he too would like to listen to this lovely song but since the little bird sings only in the night, the sun will never be able to hear him. The sun becomes so sad that he cannot shine any more and the days become gloomy and dark. It is only the little bird who can make the sun shine again and save the world with his song. Again, the older, knowing reader will be able to pick up on the allusions; one of them referring to the issue of art and the relationship of society to art. This, indeed, was a sensitive topic in a country in which artistic expression, to a great extent, was prescribed from above. Another metaphor, similarly sensitive, is the issue of a society granting respect to the individual. The intertextual reference to Andersen's The Ugly Duckling is evident. Both the title (Das kleine häßliche Entlein versus Der kleine häßliche Vogel) and the storyline manifest parallels. Because of displaying abnormal characteristics, a member of a community is ostracized and regarded as unsuitable by the other members. As both Andersen's and Heiduczek's stories develop, the situation changes through exterior influences, and the outcast finds himself accepted into the group. Despite the similarities, the stories differ in their endings. While Andersen's tale finishes with the ugly duckling becoming a swan and, owing to his new and beautiful appearance, being welcomed into society, the little bird in Heiduczek's fable remains ugly; the very last sentence says "he was really an ugly little bird." By this, Heiduczek wished to place importance on the fact that the individual stays an individual, even though he or she can successfully achieve something for the community. Heiduczek also wanted to emphasize that any society needs the individual, regardless of his or her physical appearance. It was this emphasis on individuality that caused problems with the censors. The author was accused of putting the individual higher than the collective and, as a consequence, Der kleine häßliche Vogel was denied a print permit for two years (Kuhnert, "Kinderliteratur" in Helden nach Plan 128).

Nonetheless, on the whole, children's books did not experience vast difficulties with respect to censorship. Authors, children's and adults' alike, generally knew what was feasible for publishing and practiced self-censorship. Furthermore, the editors in the publishing houses kept a watchful eye over their manuscripts and were vigilant about what was to be sent to the censor for inspection. It is true, however, that ChL represented a niche within the literary system. This fact accounts for the inconsistency with which ChL was handled in public. "On the one hand, it was viewed as emancipated, which was highly justified in light of the artistic achievements; on the other, it was not taken fully seriously after all, which made room for tackling new subjects" (Peltsch 16). Realizing this, many authors made full use of it, cognizant of their sensitive readers and the necessity to encourage in them nonuniform thinking. The fact that literature—and, of course, ChL as well—had a role to play in countering the conformist media transformed much of literary writing to an Ersatzliteratur (substitute literature), providing information on topics that were suppressed from public debate. For those authors who wanted to make their readership aware of shortcomings in society, this meant an ongoing battle over how much truth they were able to pack into a text and how to wrap up the message in order for it to still be identifiable by the public. The East German author Günter de Bruyn put it, "For me it was always about how much one can be truthful in a society that hinders truthfulness" (qtd. in Kuhnert, "Kinderliteratur" in Helden nach Plan 125). Because of its ambiguous status, East German ChL was given the opportunity of depicting certain spheres in life before adult literature took them up as topics, i.e. damage to the environment and concern for nature, handicapped children, as well as the themes of education and tolerance. The GDR had banned, for instance, ecological issues from public debate far into the 1980s. When they were mentioned at all, ecological disasters were reported only in connection with capitalist countries and "since perestroika with the USSR" (Peltsch 17). More than a decade earlier than in adult literature, one of the first children's stories dealing with the environment (Horst Beseler's Der Baum, concerning the rescue of a tree) appeared in 1970. It was followed by a batch of other books dedicated to similar topics, of which an illustrated book for young readers deserves mention. In Der Klappwald (1978), the author Edith Anderson portrays a nightmare scenario in which ecological disasters have struck the country and people choke amid fumes, rubbish, traffic, and concrete. Because there are no trees or green growth around anymore, an old man—reminiscent of the bygone days—cuts out paper trees in the desire to build a forest, which enterprise in the end fails tragically as rain sets in and soaks all the paper. In the heavily industrial East Germany, which did not shy away from destroying entire villages and displacing their populations to concrete blocks of flats in satellite towns, this book illustrates the importance of the environment for young children—as well as adult readers—who were deprived of proper public discussion of issues around this subject, including the significance of an intact nature and the importance of protecting it.

Equally, trusting in children's natural need to bond, befriend, and wish for harmony, their literature took up the subject of outcasts of the society, including handicapped people. The aim was not so much to create feelings of pity in the children as to teach them consideration for people's individuality and respect for one another. Again, dozens of children's books had dealt with these subjects long before adult literature began to take up the theme and, hence, these children's books represented a source of information and debate for the adult reader.

Books revolving around a physical handicap include: the aforementioned Das Mädchen mit der Katze, Maria Seidamann's Neunfinger (1983), and Wolfgang Held's … auch ohne Gold und Lorbeerkranz (1983), in which Sebastian, the twelve-year-old pro-tagonist, has to learn to cope with his fate after an amputation following a car accident makes it impossible for him to prolong his career as a gymnast. Not only did Held take up the very controversial theme of competitive sport for children and East Germany's greed for medals and reputation in this field, he also pokes fun at society by introducing a piece of word play: Fred Waldemann—in the book a sport- and medal-obsessed, yet intellectually slow, sports functionary—received his name by way of an anagram about Manfred Ewald, the president of the East German Sports Association—a provocative detail hidden from many children, but available to the more knowing reader.

The introduction of the mentally handicapped into GDR literature deserves further acknowledgement. Books such as Jutta Schlott's Der Sonderfall (1981) tackled a highly taboo subject, as Sonderfälle (literally 'special cases', an expression here referring to mentally slow people) tended to be written off and forgotten by the society. However, books like these assisted in directing attention to the value of humanity, and to point out that the value a society accords to humanity could be measured by the way in which such Sonderfälle were treated by that society.

Another taboo broken in 1987 was the depiction of antisocial behavior and dilapidation in socialist childhood and family life, since officially 'antisocialness' did not exist in a socialist reality. Umberto, by Günter Saalmann, was written several years before being published in 1987, but was denied publication for a long time, and the author was required to rewrite passages for several years. With Umberto, the earlier mentioned phenomenon of Ersatzliteratur becomes very noticeable. Being concerned with a delicate and publicly suppressed subject, combined with the problems around its publication, the book had been eagerly awaited and caused a rush to the bookshops when it eventually appeared.

A similar fate befell Wolf Spillner's Die Wasseramsel (1984), a book that upset the East German bureaucracy. Spillner saw it as his task to teach children to love and understand nature, and to illuminate problems linked to the conflict between economy and ecology. He had come to write for children owing to previous problems with censorship (Ulrich 10). Before writing Die Wasseramsel, he had already published several texts concerning ecology. Although ecology was a sensitive topic in the GDR altogether, he ran into problems only when he tried to publish Die Wasseramsel. In this book, not only is environmental crime depicted, but it is also linked to the practice of according privileges to Party functionaries and nomenclature (elite) cadres. The story is about two young people who are in love with each other; it climaxes when the boy's father, a retired combine director called 'The General', plans to illegally build a Datsche (private country house) in the midst of a nature preserve. The two join a group of people fighting for the preservation of nature, even quoting the Constitution, in which protection of nature is demanded. "If the beauty and riches of our country are harmed by private interest, then we no longer have socialism …" (Spillner 149). A campaign is launched against such privilege, in the course of which 'The General' dies of a heart attack. Spillner had to agree to add this death and also make some deletions in order to arrive at an acceptable resolution that would allow his book to be published. Die Wasseramsel was widely read by a younger and by an older audience; youth were looking to read about the love story between Ulla and Winfried whereas—given the neglect of environmental issues in the society—the older readers were more interested in the context of the story.

The examples mentioned demonstrate that the East German ChL of the 1980s increasingly turned to highly charged topics within the society. These were topics that the authorities either hushed up or pretended did not exist, yet areas about which the populace was very aware and about which they grew more and more expressive and dissatisfied. Irrefutably, many of these topics were not new to ChL; indeed, from the late 1960s and the '70s, West German emancipatory ChL was concerned with similar issues of individuality, alienation, and the shortcomings of society. However, the difference was that, in contrast to western societies, in the GDR the collective spirit was of supreme value, and conformity was the benchmark for being socially accepted. Hence, discussing individuality, independence, and the right to a unique personality had a sensitive, perhaps even subversive, character within the social context. Additionally, under the conditions of vigilant censorship, sociocritical books appear in an even more rebellious light, when compared with the mass-produced, unrestrained literature prevalent in the west. In a society in which it was dangerous to be outspoken, such literary expression assumes greater significance. Even though the same subjects were handled in the GDR as the FGR, the constraints under which they were produced in the GDR put them in another light. East German authors had to find ways of expressing observations, beliefs, and issues in a fashion clear enough for the readers to grasp, but veiled enough for those notions to pass the censors. One method frequently employed in ChL was to use fantasy elements to avoid calling things by their true names. Metaphor and ambiguity, however, resulted in only informed readers seeing through the veil, which often left the child reader unaware of the deeper meaning of a text. The last example in this article deals with a book employing this literary technique of using fantasy in order to articulate concern about the growing alienation resulting from the mounting discrepancy between propaganda and reality. Written by Christa Kožik, Kicki und der König (1990) is set in a fairytale land. Its main plot describes the adventures of a speaking cat who travels around the country with her king, pointing out to him defects and mismanagement concealed from him by his officials. The king's belief that everything in his kingdom is going well stems from obtaining his information solely from his court press. But Kicki is determined to open his eyes and make him see the reality. She is a truly extraordinary cat; not only can she smell the truth but "also lies, falseness, underhandedness and sloppiness" (22). It is she who points out to King Karl many things that seem practical or useful from his viewpoint, or about which he had never thought before, but which nevertheless infuriate his subjects. So, for instance, she points out how futile the empty slogans of propaganda really are, since beliefs have to grow in the heart of the people and cannot be dictated to them (20); or that the country's newspapers are full of half-truths and evasiveness (16, 21); or that the sovereign's picture that appears on the cover page of the newspapers every day wears thin (15). With Kicki as the advisor to the King, a new style of reign evokes fear in his senior ministers that they might have to leave their private castles and dispose of their servants and guards (17). They suspect this dangerous influence to be stemming from the hostile neighboring state of JuniLand (corresponding to West Germany as viewed by the GDR) (17). King Karl discovers that his subjects are not able to buy everyday goods—such as food, wooden boards, and hats—either because they are stored out of sight to be sold for certain privileged customers (so-called Bückware in East Germany) or they are reserved for export (which often occurred to boost East Germany's economy with foreign currency) (116-119). The King also learns useful philosophical concepts; for instance, that "nobody can be forced to love their country or forced to have a particular worldview … and that one must not prescribe to the people what and how they ought to think" (86). Meaningful names give weight to the allusions—so, for instance, in Maien-Land there is a train station called Oberhäßlich (i.e. literally 'Superugly'; alluding to the state of buildings in the GDR), the Minister of Economy is called Knallhorn (einen Knall haben = to be crazy), and the Royal chief journalist is Otto Vollmund (den Mund voll nehmen = to talk big). King Karl has several Ministers, among whom there is a Minister of Security, one of Press, one of Propaganda, and one of Cheering and Waving. Although Kicki und der König was written during 1986 and 1987, it only received its print permit in 1989, and was eventually published in 1990. According to Kožik, this delay was due to a long struggle between her and the publishing house Kinderbuchverlag, because the publisher deemed the book too rebellious and hesitated to apply for a print permit (Kožik, "Was sieht" 2). The extent to which the book had been pointing the finger at sensitive areas in the country is exemplified by the author's preliminary remark of November 9th, 1989 in the front of the book; here she states that, "this book was devised and written several years ago. Now, all of a sudden, time has marched on and every day reveals new truths. Many things, which were expressed in this book as a vision and as a hope, have now come true" (3).

Because of the particular makeup of the East German state, books like this did not only have the two readerships of children and adults in mind. They were also targeted at a third one, the people in charge of the country's destiny; in other words, the Central Committee of the Unity Party (SED), which fulfilled the role of the so-called 'fourth censor,' the highest tier in the hierarchy deciding the fate of books. Kicki und der König's veiled messages were directed at making them aware of the fact that the people were becoming more and more frustrated about the growing discrepancy between socialist ideals and daily realities. In as much as the second addressee, the adult, was to be encouraged to contemplate attitudes, behaviors and values, so were the politicians. It was not the intention of authors to warn against socialism per se, but against the shape it had taken in the GDR; like many East Germans, they believed in a reformable socialism. When relaxations in other socialist countries had begun to set in (especially after Gorbachev had assumed the presidency in Russia) and it had become clear that the politicians of the GDR did not seek to follow suit, those calling for perestroika within East Germany became even more vociferous. Christa Kožik was one of those, expressing her opinion strongly about the role of literature when stating that literature "acts as diagnosis and indicator, it should warn against unhealthy developments in good time" (Kuhnert, "Kinderliteratur" in JuLit 50). It is without doubt that Kožik put into words this belief when writing her book Kicki und der König, which was heralded as the "first perestroika book in the GDR by those working with the manuscript and those knowing it [i.e. the manuscript]" (Peltsch 18).

However, I would suggest that there was yet another, fourth, addressee in East German ChL—namely the future adult, the grown-up to be. From the very outset, children had been regarded hopefully as those who would carry the society's values into the future and build a socialist/communist utopia. Despite the change in premise, this idea still prevailed in the 1970 and '80s. There was still the belief that children would one day put things right, as can be seen from a quote from Kicki und der König; "with children one can change the world" (143). Intertwined, there was, however, the other notion that children's books were to stay with their readers for their whole lives. It was believed that as long as books maintained a high quality, children would not grow out of them and would always be able, as grown-ups, to take them to hand and enjoy as much as in younger years. If, therefore, children were not yet able to read beyond the surface meaning of the text, then certainly in later years they would, and the allegories and metaphors would speak to them. They would come to fully recognize what the authors were trying to express. In that instance then, the readers would have become the mature partner to whom the authors were reaching out. Hence, while the children might overlook the second, hidden layer in their books, the same people, as adults, would possess more knowledge and experience; assuming the role of the fourth addressee, they then would have access to the full depth of meaning. The historic events of 1989 show that such a procedure might have taken place—those coming of age in the 1970s and '80s had grown up and, indeed, took charge of their lives and their right to their own opinions.

In conclusion, it is true that, in the early years, children's writing in East Germany had the mission to integrate children into a collective and subordinate them to a higher degree of socialist uniformity. Commensurate with the oft-cited equality of children as members of society, they were treated equally insofar as they—in the same fashion as the adults—were expected to give up their individuality for the sake of a higher, political ideal. ChL of those days was literature for children, a literature used as a didactic tool whose purpose was to encourage children to adapt and conform. Over the years, much of this ChL was elevated to the kind of literature which could be, and was, read by adults. In terms of quality, innovativeness, topicality, and language, books were created which no longer lived in the "Spielecke des Lebens" (playpen of life) (Tiede 32). This elevation to a literature addressing a wide-ranging audience now constituted interesting reading matter for groups other than children. Alongside this development, texts emerged that carried more pressing topics directed toward adults' ears. Books were no longer for children, but about children and about their problems in a socialist reality. Authors discussed issues in their books that gave them reason for concern, yet about which society had not yet found solutions. Asking questions and looking for answers, these books were speaking to their readers as equal communication partners. Undoubtedly, many of the books of this period had come to fully recognize children as partners, acknowledging their emotions and that children have the right to individual personalities as much as anyone else. However, while books in the 1950s and '60s (if they were not of the dogmatic kind) ran the danger of becoming too sophisticated for children and increasingly appeared to need an adult interpreter, these books could now be read and understood at various levels. Depending on the background knowledge and life experience of the reader, they carried messages for children, adolescents, and adults. Although it has to be said that there was still a market for the other orthodox, dogmatic kind of children's writing in East Germany, this part of ChL had become emancipated. Being accessible on various levels, this part of the East German ChL had become a literature intended for all ages and layers of society: the first, second, and third addressee, and even one that was to be meaningful to readers in the future, i.e. the fourth addressee.1


1. This article is a modified and extended version of a paper given at the IBBY conference in London, UK, in November 2003.

Primary Literature

Anderson, Edith. Der Klappwald. Berlin: Kinder-buchverlag, 1978.

Bergner, Edith. Das Mädchen im roten Pullover. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1974.

――――――. Schinschilla. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1979.

Beseler, Horst. "Der Baum." Der Baum. Ed. Edith George. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1970. 143-96.

――――――. Jemand kommt. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1972.

David, Kurt. Der Löwe mit der besonders schönen Mähne. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1978.

Görlich, Günter. Den Wolken ein Stück näher. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1971.

Hacks, Peter. Meta Morfoß. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1975.

Heiduczek, Werner. Der kleine häßliche Vogel. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1973.

Held, Wolfgang … auch ohne Gold und Lorbeerkranz. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1983.

Kant, Uwe. Das Klassenfest. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1969.

Kožik, Christa. Kicki und der König. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1990.

Nowotny, Joachim. Der Riese im Paradies. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1969.

Pludra, Benno. Tambari. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1969.

――――――. Insel der Schwäne. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1980.

Renn, Ludwig. Trini. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1954.

Saalmann, Günter. Umberto. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1987.

Schlott, Jutta. Der Sonderfall. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1981.

Seidemann, Maria. Neunfinger. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1983.

Spillner, Wolf. Die Wasseramsel. 4th ed. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1984.

Strittmatter, Erwin. Tinko. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1954.

Tetzner, Gerti. Maxi. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1979.

Wellm, Alfred. Pugowitza oder die silberne Schlüsseluhr. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1975.

――――――. Karlchen Duckdich. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1977.

――――――. Das Mädchen mit der Katze. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1983.

Secondary Literature

Altner, Manfred. Das sozialistische Menschenbild in der Kinder- und Jugendliteratur der DDR. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1972.

――――――, ed. Das proletarische Kinderbuch. Dokumente zur Geschichte der sozialistischen deutschen Kinder- und Jugendliteratur. Dresden: VEB Verlag der Kunst, 1988.

Berger, Christel. "Kindheit in Büchern von DDR-Autoren, geschrieben für kindliche oder erwachsene Leser." Beiträge zur Kinder- und Jugendliteratur 75 (1985): 34-45.

Ebert, Günter. "Wirkung und Wahrheit." Beiträge zur Kinder- und Jugendliteratur 26 (1973): 5-21.

Emmrich, Christian. Literatur und Medienkünste für junge Leute. Berlin: Kinderbuchverlag, 1987.

Havekost, Hermann. "Einführung." Helden nach Plan? Eds. Hermann Havekost, Sandra Langenhahn and Anne Wicklein. Oldenburg: Bibliotheks- und Informationssystem der Universität Oldenburg, 1993. 11-31.

Humbert, Genevieve. "Die kinderliterarische Szene in der DDR seit dem VIII. Parteitag der SED." Literatur für Kinder. Studien über ihr Verhältnis zur Gesamtliteratur. Ed. Maria Lypp. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1977. 114-22.

Konzag, Marianne. "Möglichkeiten und Grenzen der Kinderliteratur." Beiträge zur Kinder- und Jugendliteratur 50 (1979): 96-103.

Kožik, Christa. "Was sieht 'das dritte Auge' heute?" Die Grundschule, Sonderteil Beiträge zur Kinder- und Jugendliteratur 4 (1992): 1-2.

Kuhnert, Heinz. "Kinderliteratur der DDR. Was bleibt?" JuLit 2 (1991): 33-53.

――――――. "Kinderliteratur der DDR: Was bleibt?" Helden nach Plan? Eds. Hermann Havekost,

Sandra Langenhahn and Anne Wicklein. Oldenburg: Bibliotheks- und Informationssystem der Universität Oldenburg, 1993. 107-30.

Lange, Marianne. "Haben Lügen kurze Beine? Zum Wahrheitsgehalt der Literatur für junge Leute." Kinderliteratur-Report 1 (1988): 11-18.

Peltsch, Steffen. "Den aufrechten Gang schon früh trainiert. Bemerkungen zur Kinderliteratur der DDR." Kinder-Bücher-Medien 34 (1990): 16-18.

Pieper, Katrin. "Jugendbuchverlage und Jugendliteratur in der DDR. Umschau." 1000 und 1 Buch 4 (1988): 3-19.

――――――. "Interview mit Benno Pludra." Weimarer Beiträge 3 (1977): 95-103.

Richter, Karin. "Wirklichkeitsmodellierung und Adressatenbezug. Wirkungsästhetische Analysen zur zeitgenössischen Kinder-und Jugendliteratur der DDR (1970–1985)." Diss. U of Halle/Saale, 1987.

――――――. "Von Timur bis Umberto und wie weiter? Wertvorstellungen in 40 Jahren Kinderliteratur der DDR." Informationen des Arbeitskreises für Jugendliteratur 5 (1989): 32-42.

――――――. "Kinderliteratur und Kinderliteraturkritik in der DDR." Informationen, Jugendliteratur und Medien 3 (1990): 111-17.

――――――. "Entwicklungslinien in der Kinderund Jugendliteratur der DDR. Vorüberlegungen für eine neue literaturhistorische Betrachtung des kinderliterarischen Schaffens von 1945–1989." Zeitschrift für Germanistik, Neue Folge 5.2 (1995): 290-300.

――――――. "Kinderliteratur und Kinderliteraturforschung in der DDR." Theorien der Jugendlektüre: Beiträge zur Kinder- und Jugendliteraturkritik seit Heinrich Wolgast. Eds. Bernd Dolle-Weinkauff and Hans-Heino Ewers. Weinheim, München: Juventa, 1996. 191-209.

Schmidt, Egon. "Die Kinder von morgen in den Büchern von heute." Beiträge zur Kinder- und Jugendliteratur 14 (1970): 15-22.

Siegel, Eva-Maria. "Eine Flaschenpost ins Meer geworfen…. Gespräch mit Christa Kožik." Beiträge zur Kinder- und Jugendliteratur 75 (1985): 46-52.

Tiede, Hans-Otto. "Einiges über Bilderbücher." Beiträge zur Kinder- und Jugendliteratur 18 (1971): 23-40.

Ulrich, Anna K. "Zur Kinderliteratur in der ehemaligen DDR." Fundevogel 83 (1991): 9-10.


Enrique Pérez Díaz (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: Díaz, Enrique Pérez. "Central and South American and the Caribbean." In International Companion Encyclopedia of Children's Literature, edited by Peter Hunt, pp. 882-92. London, England: Routledge, 1996.

[In the following essay, Díaz offers a broad survey of the defining characteristics of children's literature in Central, Latin, and South America, offering commentary on the defining works of juvenile literature in such areas as Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Venezuela, and The West Indies.]

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Robert Dunbar (essay date September 1997)

SOURCE: Dunbar, Robert. "Rarely Pure and Never Simple: The World of Irish Children's Literature." Lion and the Unicorn 21, no. 3 (September 1997): 309-21.

[In the following essay, Dunbar explores several of the dominant thematic motifs of contemporary Irish children's literature, including such recurring topics as identity, language, residency, and tradition.]

The world of Irish children's literature is a strange, complex, and fascinating place. Those who enter it are immediately caught in a tangle of complexities, most of them deriving from questions of definition and origin. What, in fact, is Irish children's literature and, should we wish to approach the phenomenon in chronological terms, where should we start? It may, at first, seem that these are questions to which there should be reasonably straightforward answers, but on closer examination they are seen to elude anything approaching easy or unanimous resolution. Part of the explanation for this is certainly that the history and politics of Ireland have been such that nothing prefixed by the adjective "Irish" allows for easy definition: this consideration applies to "Irish children's literature" as much as to most other things. When the authoritative history of the subject comes to be written it is going to be a very lengthy and wide-ranging work.

When such a volume eventually appears, it will show an Irish tradition of children's writing which stretches back some three hundred years. That tradition—and this is one of the reasons for the complications mentioned above—includes writing in both the Irish language and English. This article deals almost exclusively with the latter but it is important to remember that writing in the Irish language has long been a significant element of Irish children's literature and has seen a remarkable development in recent years, during which it has become linked with wider political, educational, and ideological discussions about the place of the Irish language in today's Ireland.

In the midst of the various complications of the subject there is, however, one clear fact about Irish children's literature: namely, that the last twenty years have seen a notable increase in the quantity of writing and publishing in Ireland for the young, to the extent that there are currently some ten Irish publishers (including three publishing exclusively in Irish) issuing children's books. But this fact brings with it yet another complication, for while most Irish children's writers and illustrators publish with these native companies, a number publish in Britain, as many of the Irish "adult" writers choose to do. Their reasons, usually, are similar to those of their adult counterparts, namely that their work is likely to be more widely marketed and distributed and that the financial rewards are greater.

This may, however, be less true than it was in, say, 1985, when Pat Donlon was able to write that "[Irish] writers of international caliber … reach larger audiences by publishing under an English imprint" (13). Eleven years later, Emer O'Sullivan could quote publisher Michael O'Brien as saying that "we are now in a position to offer authors a world market" (196). The growing popularity of co-productions between Irish and foreign publishers has certainly given rise to the possibility of increased international exposure for Irish children's books, a possibility enhanced by a tendency for foreign publishers to acquire the rights to a growing number of Irish titles. In return, Irish publishers now frequently acquire Irish rights to books published elsewhere, a policy which, while adding to the diversity of "Irish children's literature," does nothing to ease problems of definition and sometimes results in curious consequences of inclusion and omission. Thus, The Big Guide to Irish Children's Books, edited by Valerie Coghlan and Celia Keenan, because of being locked into Irish children's publishing, cannot include most of the picture book titles by Martin Waddell or any of the teenage fiction of his alter ego, Catherine Sefton; it can, however, include the American picture books of Rosemary Wells and the Australian teenage novels of Judith Clarke, simply because both have been acquired for the purposes of Irish rights by Irish publishers.

For anyone outside Ireland interested in Irish children's literature this question of place of publication may not seem particularly important. In Ireland itself, however, it becomes a central element in discussing of the topic and at times threatens to relegate other elements, especially the literary, to second place. Lesley Reece, concluding her introduction to the Irish Guide to Children's Books, Decade 1980–1990 (a volume which includes some "books and reprints published … outside Ireland which have specific Irish interest"), writes:

… almost up to the day I left Ireland in January 1990, prominent, intelligent, articulate Irish people, when hearing of my interest in Irish children's books, would ask: "But are they any good?" This cultural cringe still astonishes me but now it also angers me. Have these same people ever asked the same question of the end-less British and American published books they provide for their children?

                                          (11, 12)

Again, with The Big Guide to Irish Children's Books, the editors announce in their introduction its purpose as "a celebration of the recent dramatic growth in Irish publishing (my italics) for children and young adults" (11), an emphasis which brings with it the risk that celebration of a book's publishing origins may preclude critical analysis of its content. (G. V. Whelan, reviewing The Big Guide in The Irish Times, saw its "dominant tone" as "congratulatory.") An objective observer might well feel that the "prominent, intelligent, and articulate Irish people" referred to by Reece have not, at least in print, been noticeably vociferous. A notable exception is Pat Donlon who, writing in 1985 of some of the first wave of the new Irish children's publishing, comments that

… the actual quality of writing and book production leave a lot to be desired. All of the stories published to date are basically good stories, but they have an unpolished, rough-hewn appearance. The writing is almost to formula, with lots of place-dropping by way of local flavor rather than the distinctive "tone" on the page which says a book is Irish.


In general, however, such commentary as there has been on contemporary Irish children's literature has tended to trace the series of initiatives which have led to what Rosemary Hetherington, writing in 1995, described as "the vibrant and exciting renaissance" into which "Irish publishing for children, having been dormant for many years, is emerging" (31). Jeremy Addis, in his article entitled "Children's Publishing in Ireland" in The Big Guide, attributes these initiatives to a blend of growing economic prosperity, "breezes [which] blew fresh and liberating air into the cultural climate" and "the special competence and charm that are characteristic of Irish entrepreneurship" (16). The various steps by which in turn these initiatives were translated into published children's books have been documented by, among others, Herbert A. Kenny, who sees "the extraordinary efflorescence of Irish books for younger readers" as part of "the animus moving through Dublin's literary world and arising from the concerns with Irish identity and its future manifestations" (280), and Emer O'Sullivan, who sees the principal emphasis of the new publishing as being "not on quality, content, form or even aesthetic or educational aspects but the national and cultural affiliation of the literature" (198) and places it within "a time of great change in traditional notions of Irish identity, with Ireland undergoing a radical process of liberalisation and modernisation" (199).

Laurence Cassidy, writing in 1990, gives particular focus to the role played in the "renaissance" by the Irish Arts Council, pointing out how the Council's opening up "of its literature policy to children's fiction in English in 1981" subsequently led to the rise "of one of the most successful sectors of the Irish publishing industry" (169).

Contemporary Irish children's literature, then, may be written in Irish or in English and may be published in Ireland or Britain (or, occasionally, elsewhere). In most cases the writers and illustrators involved will have been born in Ireland, though that too is less simple than it sounds, since today's Ireland comprises what politically is generally referred to as Northern Ireland, currently ruled by Britain directly from London, as well as the larger part of the island which since 1922 has been an independent republic. The quantity of children's literature published in Northern Ireland is insignificant. But the amount written in it (or written by or illustrated by those born there, who may have moved elsewhere) is very considerable, while the "troubles" of the past three decades have ensured a proliferating accumulation of material written about it. If we extend the current political entity known as Northern Ireland into the much older province of Ulster—to include the counties of Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan—then the body of relevant children's literature expands even more. Little attempt has been made to examine the particular features of this regional Ulster contribution, apart from a brief survey ("Children's Literature: The Ulster Dimension") in the May 1993 issue of the magazine Children's Books in Ireland (Dunbar 1993). Yet, tentative as it is, this survey reminds us of the Ulster origins of such historically important names as Frances Browne, Captain Mayne Reid, and Ella Young and reminds us also that, some forty years after their first publication, the Narnia stories of Belfast-born C. S. Lewis remain Ireland's most widely known contribution to children's literature—at least outside his own country. Brown has suggested of Lewis that

… there is perhaps in his … children's fantasies … a sense of desperation, a sense of something constructed against the odds, against the spirit of the age that makes him kin of Yeats as well as Tolkien, Chesterton and George MacDonald.


The Ulster tradition inaugurated by, among others, Browne, Reid, and Young, continues, via such names as Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Janet McNeill, Rosamond Praeger, and Meta Mayne Reid, to a long list of contemporary writers (Mary Beckett, Sam McBratney, Tom McCaughren, Arthur McKeown, Cormac Mac Raois, Vera Pettigrew, Jack Scoltock, Matthew Sweeney, and Martin Waddell) and to the illustrator P. J. Lynch. Ireland has not yet given us, in any quantity, the kind of picture book in which, because text and picture have emerged from the same consciousness, there is an integral relationship between both. But we have, in the person of Martin Waddell, probably today's most prolific English language writer of texts for picture books and, in the person of P. J. Lynch, the most widely praised and recognized illustrator of texts for picture books yet to have appeared in Ireland. As has been suggested elsewhere (Dunbar 1996), their shared Ulster background and its influence on their writing and art respectively contribute to give their picture books the original and individual dimension that they have.

As the foregoing paragraphs indicate, most of the writers and illustrators who produce the Irish children's literature of today will have been born in Ireland, whether north or south. But, by way of another complication in confronting the genre, we have several writers of children's books now living in Ireland who are not Irish-born. Some of these are of Irish descent and most choose to write on Irish themes and to be published in Ireland. Writers such as Margrit Cruickshank, Morgan Llywelyn, and Chris Lynch, currently living here, belong in this category; Joan Lingard is an interesting example of a writer who, though born outside the country, spent her childhood and adolescence here and has now returned to her birthplace, Scotland. And, as we welcome in, we also export, giving rise to yet another group of writers: those who, though Irish-born (or of Irish descent) have spent, or spend, most of their lives outside the country, generally in Britain or the United States, exhibiting indications of their lineage in their work. Of writers already mentioned, Frances Browne, Captain Mayne Reid, and Ella Young fall into this emigrant grouping, as, of course, does C. S. Lewis and, indeed, Cecil Day Lewis: to these can be added Padraic Colum and, more recently, Patrick O'Connor, the last of whom wrote also as Christopher Webb and, in his best known guise, as Leonard Wibberley.

Again, all of this contributes remarkably to the diversity of "Irish children's literature," while at the same time complicating even further matters of definition and making almost impossible any neat notions of "Irishness." Attempts to impose neatness where none exists can result in conclusions that are often highly pragmatic and occasionally highly confusing. The exact placing of, for example, Maria Edgeworth has given rise to some curiously different attitudes. C. A. Read, anthologizing for his (adult) Cabinet of Irish Literature, writes of her:

Although born out of Ireland, yet the life and works of Maria Edgeworth are so closely connected with that country as to entitle her to a place in our pages.

                                        (Vol. 2, 254)

This is a view shared (to some extent) by John Chambers who, in 101 Irish Lives, one of the few contemporary Irish reference books for children, includes Edgeworth as one of the "Irish Lives," while writing of the Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton that he was "friendly with many of the leading English writers of the time, including … Maria Edgeworth" (107). For Frank Flanagan, Edgeworth's children's stories were "written by an English lady of the 19th century who happened to live in Ireland" (68).

It is hardly surprising that those few efforts so far made to establish a historical perspective from which contemporary Irish children's literature can be observed have been fragmentary and selective. A. Norman Jeffares, in a brief appendix to his survey of Anglo-Irish literature, devotes a page to "Books for Children," mentioning Edgeworth:

Irish books specifically written for children begin with Maria Edgeworth's well-known moral, educational stories which still appeal to children fortunate enough to have them read aloud to them


Frances Browne, Eilís Dillon, Winifred Letts, Patricia Lynch, Standish O'Grady, and Ella Young—a program note for an entertainment put on as part of the first Irish Summer School on Children's Literature (Dunbar 1991) mentions Browne, Padraic Colum, Dillon, Edgeworth, Lynch, Walter Macken, Janet McNeill, L. T. Meade, O'Grady, Captain Mayne Reid, Meta Mayne Reid, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, and Young. Valerie Coghlan follows closely, adding Oliver Goldsmith, Maura Laverty, C. S. Lewis, Padraig Pearse, and Rosamond Praeger, stating that "Gulliver's Travels may claim to be the first children's novel by an Irish writer" (695). (Rosemary Walton, discussing [Irish] children's non-fiction in The Big Guide to Irish Children's Books, comments that in the already mentioned Chambers' 101 Irish Lives, "Gulliver's Travels is incorrectly described as a classic children's story" [113].) Flanagan, in a survey that usefully combines children's literature of the English and Irish languages, starts with Gulliver's Travels:

Gulliver's Travels is considered a book for children either because there are small people and giants in it or because it is still politically too hot for adults to handle.


He continues with Colum, Dillon, Edgeworth, Mary Flynn, Lynch, Macken, Eileen Ó Faoláin, Pearse, James Stephens, and Wilde.

In these various listings there is clearly a range of opinion as to the eligibility of certain writers for inclusion and exclusion: what is perhaps most intriguing about all of them are the names that appear in none of them. What may one day emerge as the "canon" of Irish children's literature is obviously still at its problematic stage, a state of affairs not noticeably different from what it was in 1984 when Eilís Dillon and her fellow editors produced an anthology called The Lucky Bag, subtitled "Classic Irish Children's Stories": "One thing they [the stories] all have in common," wrote Dillon in her introduction, "is that they are Irish, and that means they are good stories in the sense that you will never be bored by them." Gulliver's Travels occurs here again, though Dillon comments of Swift's "stories" that "they were not written for children at all but like most good books they were enjoyed by people of all ages" (8). Later, this becomes generalized into "A good many of our stories were not written specially for children at all but, like Gulliver's Travels, can be read by everyone" (9).

In a collection which is sufficiently all-embracing to include such "adult" writers as Brian Friel, Seán Ó Faoláin, Frank O'Connor, and James Plunkett, such explanations are clearly necessary. Their inclusion becomes valid when we extend the notion of "children's literature" to include literature about childhood (and adolescence), a literary genre with which Irish writers (more, perhaps, than those of other nations) seem particularly obsessed, as if childhood were some sort of unfinished business which, even for adults, can never quite be resolved.

In summary, then, it can be stated that attempts so far made to provide a historical background to the development of contemporary Irish children's literature have been characterized by ambiguity and uncertainty. Significantly, however, one particular period of that evolution has attracted much commentary and is beginning to assume a role as an important signpost to subsequent developments. This is the period, stretching from the 1880s to the 1920s, of what is generally referred to as the Irish Literary Revival, a period which witnessed Ireland make its first moves from colonial to post-colonial status. The period saw also the unearthing of a largely neglected Gaelic literary past, buried in ancient manuscripts and having a long established earlier oral tradition. Yeats, in the introduction to his friend Lady Gregory's retelling of the Cuchulain story, assured her readers:

If we but tell these stories to our children the Land will begin again to be a Holy Land, as it was before men gave their hearts to Greece and Rome and Judea.


This remark, allowing for Yeatsian exaggeration, typifies the spirit of the Revival, certainly where children's literature enters the picture. P. J. Madden, writing in 1955 in a context where he comments that "Every development in children's books since the 18th century has depended on the changing whims of their elders, expressed always as 'children ought to,'" remarks: "Irish children ought to be patriotic and so we find an extraordinary outburst of historical, adventure and hero tales for Irish youth, boys especially, from the 1890s to the 1920s" (36). John Wilson Foster has shown how writing for the young became a central part of the endeavors of many of the Revival writers and how the Ireland-childhood-heroism linkage that recurs in Irish Revival literature was initiated (41). Declan Kiberd has described the effect of the Revival writers' "childhood in a colony" on their work and how they identified that childhood with that of the new Irish nation (101). Máire West has outlined the role played by mythology and legend in this era in the gradual formation of a national identity in the Irish children's literature of the time. She demonstrates how the writing of Standish O'Grady, Lady Gregory, Eleanor Hull, Ella Young, and James Stephens drew on this mythology and legend "to inform and inspire" their readers (173). While these writers undoubtedly merit their place in any discussion of Irish children's literature, much of their work raises questions as to which kind of audience—child, adult or both—was being primarily addressed. West, for example, describes Stephens' Irish Fairy Tales as "the epitome of pure Irish mythological literature for children" (174), an observation which has to be seen in the context of Stephens' own comment, in one of his letters, that Irish Fairy Tales was "not a book for children at all" (256). Dillon's remark, quoted earlier, that many of the stories in The Lucky Bag were "not written for children at all but … can be read by everyone" has an application in Irish children's literature well beyond the stories in any particular anthology.

But whatever the precise intentions of the Revival writers about their audience, their interest in ancient story is one which has been inherited by contemporary Irish children's literature, almost to the extent of dominating it: even in post-colonial days, to quote Seamus Heaney, "Whatever is given / can always be reimagined" (29). One striking difference, however, is in the nature of the reimagining, which now frequently sees the old stories as the starting point for new fictions, where the fantasy of old worlds and the reality of new worlds meet. Authors such as Dan Kissane in The King of Wisdom's Daughter and The Eagle Tree build upon a structure of Irish storytelling to create what is in effect the magic realism of Irish children's literature. But unfortunately this is a genre which with few original writers too easily lends itself to clichés and stereotypes, both linguistic and thematic. At times one begins to sympathize with the character Nuala Deery when at the end of Mary Regan's novel for children, The Red Stone of the Curses, she asks, "Who wants to know about stupid old fairy stories and monsters with daft names?" (121).

We are back to "Irishness," what it means and the image of it to be found in our children's books. Kenneth Reddin, writing scathingly in 1946, asks, "What is the matter with the Irish writers of children's stories? They are completely stage-Irish" (74), attributing this state of affairs to foreign (British and American) expectations of how the Irish should be portrayed in their children's literature. This tussle between what might be referred to as "traditional" and "modern" representations can be seen in much of the children's fiction of Patricia Lynch and Eilís Dillon, the writers whose work (certainly in the Republic of Ireland) was synonymous with "Irish children's literature" for over three decades of the present century. In Lynch's case, the "Irishness" of the texts resides mainly in her indebtedness to existing Irish myth and legend as a starting point for her stories, with very little reference to the Ireland where her contemporary readers would actually have been living. Dillon, clearly much more a "realistic" writer, recognizes the need to give her young characters the space and time to grow, so that they can eventually and confidently take their place in a real adult world. Their growth to maturity can be seen as mirroring that of the new Ireland in which they are young citizens and they share, particularly in her west of Ireland stories, a terrain with their older fellow humans, whose feuding, irascibility, and eccentricity they have to learn to understand. What emerges forcibly in Dillon's fiction is a sense of, in many aspects of the word, transition, though without, perhaps, a full acceptance of the upheaval which that state generally involves.

In his introduction to Mary Carbery's The Farm by Lough Gur (one of the Irish children's books recommended by Reddin and first published in 1937, the year of Ireland's new constitution) Shane Leslie laments that

Ireland relinquishing her old ways in the farm and on the roadside will lose something that no new constitutions can possibly give her…. When cows are milked by electricity one feels there will be no fairies left to demand their tiny share of the milk.


Sixty years on, the disjunction between the old and the new would not be phrased precisely in these terms. But the fear of abandoning what are perceived as traditional modes, if progress is to be embraced, persists in the writing and publishing of our children's literature. This is notably the case with Irish young adult fiction, which remains in what John Fahy has called its "embryo state" (50). There are, however, in books such as Peter Gunning's Reaching the Heights, Tony Keily's The Shark Joke, Martin Waddell's Tango's Baby and (for a slightly younger readership) Frank Murphy's Lockie and Dadge tantalizing harbingers of what may come as the embryo grows and the contemporary Ireland in which our young actually live assumes a key role in the narratives.

Meanwhile, Margrit Cruickshank's Circling the Triangle remains Ireland's greatest achievement in the genre. It portrays sixteen-year-old Stephen Russell, his end-of-school examinations on the horizon, passing through in a south Dublin setting. He is confronted with the various personal, social, familial, and sexual strains popularly associated with adolescence. "I couldn't believe what I'd seen," reflects Stephen on his experience of meeting the hungry on Dublin's streets (62)—the same Stephen who, in the novel's opening pages, in the process of defiling a friend's sitting room with some well-chosen graffiti, "had to take down a picture of a thatched cottage," as if saying goodbye to a certain kind of Irishness (7). The weird and wonderful Irish family Christmas portrayed in the book reminds us of a very famous Christmas scene in Irish fiction, that of Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The Stephen there, of course, was young master Dedalus and the talk was all of Parnell and politics, the turkey resplendent on its platter. In Cruickshank, as we wait for the eating to begin, the wine glasses of Stephen's parents "were sitting in the puddle of water and blood seeping out from under the white, clammy, goose-pimpled flesh we would eat without a thought in a few hours' time" (124).

In a recent volume of essays Fintan O'Toole points out how, for the independent Irish state established in 1922, the idea of an island had a special importance, with the sea acting as "a fortification enclosing and protecting the culture within" (112). If, for the first forty years of its existence, the state allowed its geographical insularity to become an insularity of the mind (an attitude which profoundly affected the character and range of its literature, children's and otherwise), that state has now developed to the extent that to talk as if there is only one Ireland is foolishly myopic.

Earlier obsessions with forging an identity—a pursuit which creates its own fictions, of various sorts—have given way to a much more general acceptance that identity can manifest itself in a multiplicity of ways. But this accelerating social change experienced by Ireland in the last thirty years has yet to find its way into its children's literature. We are caught between the need to hold on and the desire to let go, or the need to let go and the desire to hold on. Martin Waddell's 1990 vision in "What Irish Children's Books Could Be":

… a way of taking the essence of being Irish, living and working in a wet, green country full of problems and strife and poverty and happiness and wild places and a way of talking that makes words dance … taking that and giving it to the children of the rest of the world and to our own Irish children


remains, in its wonderful pluralism, a vision. But its realization is closer than it used to be.

Works Cited

Addis, Jeremy. "Children's Publishing in Ireland." The Big Guide to Irish Children's Books. Ed. Valerie Coghlan and Celia Keenan. Dublin: Irish Children's Book Trust, 1996. 14-19.

Brown, Terence. Ireland's Literature. Mullingar: The Lilliput Press, 1988.

Cassidy, Laurence. "For the Children, By the Children." Irish Guide to Children's Books, Decade 1980–1990. Ed. Lesley Reece and Gabriel Rosenstock. Dublin: Irish Children's Book Foundation, 1990. 167-70.

Chambers, John. 101 Irish Lives. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1992.

Coghlan, Valerie. "Ireland." International Companion Encyclopaedia of Children's Literature. Ed. Peter Hunt. London: Routledge, 1996. 695-98.

Coghlan, Valerie, and Celia Keenan, ed. The Big Guide to Irish Children's Books. Dublin: Irish Children's Book Trust, 1996.

Cruickshank, Margrit. Circling the Triangle. Dublin: Poolbeg, 1991.

Dillon, Eilís et al., ed. The Lucky Bag. Dublin: O'Brien, 1984.

Donlon, Pat. "Irish Children's Fiction." The Linen Hall Review 2.3 (1985): 12-13.

Dunbar, Robert. "Children's Literature: The Irish Contribution." Programme for The Writer Reads, Dublin: Summer School on Children's Literature, 1991.

――――――. "Children's Literature: The Ulster Dimension." Children's Books in Ireland 8 (1993): 11-22.

――――――. "Children's Literature: The Contemporary Irish Dimension." European Children's Literature. Ed. Penni Cotton. Kingston upon Thames: Kingston UP, 1996. 77-85.

Fahy, Frank. "Teen Fiction." The Big Guide to Irish Children's Books. Ed. Valerie Coghlan and Celia Keenan. Dublin: Irish Children's Book Trust, 1996. 50-59.

Flanagan, Frank. "Children's Literature in the Republic of Ireland: Historical Background." European Children's Literature. Ed. Penni Cotton. Kingston upon Thames: Kingston UP, 1996: 67-76.

Foster, John Wilson. Fictions of the Irish Literary Revival. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1987.

Gunning, Peter. Reaching the Heights. Dublin: Blackwater Press, 1995.

Heaney, Seamus. "The Settle Bed." Seeing Things. London: Faber, 1991.

Hetherington, Rosemary. "Recent Irish Publishing for Children." An Leabharlann 12.1 (1995): 31-36.

Jeffares, A. Norman. Anglo-Irish Literature. London: Macmillan, 1982.

Keily, Tony. The Shark Joke. Dublin: Martello, 1994.

Kenny, Herbert A. Literary Dublin: A History. 2nd ed. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1991.

Kiberd, Declan. Inventing Ireland. London: Cape, 1995.

Kissane, Dan. The King of Wisdom's Daughter. Dublin: O'Brien, 1995.

――――――. The Eagle Tree. Dublin: O'Brien, 1996.

Leslie, Shane. Introduction, The Farm by Lough Gur, by Mary Carbery. London: Longmans, 1937.

Madden, P. J. "Children's Books in Ireland." An Leabharlann 13.1 (1955): 33-44.

Murphy, Frank. Lockie and Dadge. Dublin: O'Brien, 1995.

O'Sullivan, Emer. "The Development of Modern Children's Literature in Late Twentieth-Century Ireland." Signal 81 (1996): 189-211.

Read, C. A. The Cabinet of Irish Literature. Vol. 2. London: Blackie, 1880.

Reddin, Kenneth. "Children's Books in Ireland." Irish Library Bulletin 7 (1946): 75-76.

Reece, Lesley, and Gabriel Rosenstock, ed. Irish Guide to Children's Books, Decade 1980–1990. Dublin: Irish Children's Book Foundation, 1990.

Regan, Mary. The Red Stone of the Curses. Dublin: Poolbeg, 1994.

Stephens, James. Letters of James Stephens. Ed. Richard J. Finneran. London, Macmillan, 1974.

Waddell, Martin. "What Irish Children's Books Could Be …" Children's Books in Ireland 2 (1990): 3.

――――――. Tango's Baby. London: Walker Books, 1995; Dublin: Poolbeg, 1996.

Walton, Rosemary. "Children's Non-Fiction." The Big Guide to Irish Children's Books. Ed. Valerie Coghlan and Celia Keenan. Dublin: Irish Children's Book Trust, 1996. 112-20.

West, Máire. "Kings, Heroes and Warriors: Aspects of Children's Literature in Ireland in the Era of Emergent Nationalism." Bulletin of the John Rylands Univ. Library of Manchester 76, 3 (1994): 165-84.

Whelan, G. V. "A Guiding Light on Children's Books." Rev. of The Big Guide to Irish Children's Books, ed. by Valerie Coghlan and Celia Keenan. The Irish Times (Weekend) 19 (October 1996): 8.

Yeats, W. B. Preface, Cuchulain of Muirthemne, by Lady Gregory (1902). Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1970. 16.



Hurlimann, Bettina. Three Centuries of Children's Books in Europe, translated and edited by Brian W. Alderson. Cleveland, Ohio: World Publishing Company, 1959, 285 p.

Charts the development of children's literature in Europe.

Jan, Isabelle, and Geneviève Patte. "Children's Literature in France." In Children and Literature: Views and Reviews, edited by Virginia Haviland, translated by Patricia M. Lafferty, pp. 355-64. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1973.

Summarizes the evolution of the children's literature genre in France through 1973.

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Notes how paternalistic South African authorities used indigenous folklore to propagate their belief in Apartheid, although those same texts are now valued for preserving an element of that vanishing culture.

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Examines how the translation of children's literature between cultures promotes internationalism.

Khorana, Meena. "Apartheid in South African Children's Fiction." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 13, no. 1 (summer 1988): 52-6.

Suggests that children's literature in South Africa subtly supported the Apartheid notions of the Afrikaner peoples.

Ury, Marian. "Stepmother Tales in Japan." Children's Literature 9 (1981): 61-72.

Discussion of the traditional folkloric stories of wicked stepmothers in Japan.

Zipes, Jack. "Walter Benjamin, Children's Literature, and the Children's Public Sphere: An Introduction to New Trends in West and East Germany." Germanic Review 63, no. 1 (winter 1988): 2-5.

Considers how the dominant thematic elements of children's literature in the former states of East and West Germany evolved over time.

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International Children's Literature

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International Children's Literature