Monday, February 01, 2010

Studying Children’s Literature

As some of you may know, my PhD dissertation was on the translation of children’s literature and I do a lot of research on children’s lit. I have to deal with a lot of misconceptions about what this means:

-People ask me if I sit around, reading children’s books, and they assume that this must be easy. No, actually, I don’t spend hours reading Laura Ingalls Wilder and Judy Blume and Lewis Carroll and Lemony Snicket and nothing else. I do read them, and I read them very closely, but I also have to read around them, which means studying literary theory, psychology, anthropology, reception theory, translation theory, and much more. I don’t just read books and then summarize them, as you might do in grammar school. I have to analyze them and what they mean and what effect they have on the reader, among other things. It is not easy to study children’s literature.

-People often assume I must be an expert on fairy tales. Actually, no, I’m not. The field of children’s literature is much larger than just fairy tales, and fairy tales are not my area of expertise, even though of course I need to understand them in order to be able to understand the history of children’s literature.

-One of the most common questions I get asked is what I think of Harry Potter. I’ll be honest: I’ve never read any of the Harry Potter books. I don’t study them. It’s very frustrating when I give a talk at a conference and then during the question session people ask me about J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, even though I never mentioned her and her books once during my presentation. There is more to children’s literature than Harry Potter.

-One of the other most common issues people often ask about is in regards to tv shows and films. First of all, I study literature, not tv. Second of all, I don’t even own a tv. While some people study the transition of children’s books from literature to film, most of us in the field don’t. Again, there is much more to the subject than tv.

-Finally, people tend to think it is a ridiculous, non-serious field and they mock me for choosing such a “simple” topic. It seems to me essential that we understand what ideas are behind children’s literature and how they affect the next generation. How could this possibly be unimportant?

In the next post, I will offer some links on children’s literature.


Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner said...

Excellent post, dear BJ! The educated reader/workshop listener will know that even in writing programs, children's literature is traditionally considered one of the most challenging subjects. We have great admiration and respect for your chosen field, especially since we are the daughters of a children's book writer -- we'd never dream of translating Mom's work. It's quite complex and deeply rooted in its culture and traditions. Would be a huge challenge to translate that from German into English; one that we are not qualified for. :)

And wow, we sure have a lot in common, don't we? We've never read Harry Potter, either, but we do read 50 books a year each plus tons of academic books (Dagy) for her thesis. We do have TVs (Judy + American, hehe, husband = TV is essential), but we are too busy reading to watch it much.

B.J. Epstein said...

Thanks for your comment, Judy and Dagy! And thank you, too, for the support. I do get a bit defensive at times regarding what I research!
And yes, we do have a lot in common, and I hope I see you both again soon. Maybe meet up in Vienna again before too? Or London?
Best wishes,

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