Friday, October 9, 2009

Book about children's literature

I've been reading three books on children's literature--with a hat tip to Ellen Moody at WomenWritersoftheWorld for recommending them--Bobby Ann Mason's Girl Sleuth, Good Girl Messages by Deborah O'Keefe and Catching Them Young: Political Ideas in Children's Fiction by Bob Dixon.

In Girl Sleuth: On the Trail of Nancy Drew, Judy Bolton and Cherry Ames, published in 1975, Mason first discusses the classism and sexism inherent in the Honeybunch series and Bobbesey Twin books, then moves on to analyze the mixed messages girls receive from series such as Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton. She points particularly to the classist assumptions in Nancy Drew: Nancy is a well-to-do, blond-haired, blue-eyed WASP girl who expects and receives privileges because of her class. This is obviously true to an extent, but Mason overstates the case and I would like, in a future blog or blogs to examine the intersection of class and sex in Nancy Drew. Do we unfairly tar young female characters who behave assertively and independently with the brush of "class privilege?" Do we use accusations of classist behavior to further oppress women who act boldly? Is Nancy Drew truly unconscious of her class privilege? Unamibivalent about it? Should women who happen belong to an elite class not use their power?

Mason also sees Nancy Drew as dependent on her father, both financially and as the person who "saves" her from danger. Again, I think the waters are much murkier. Of course, Nancy relies on her father's income. But is that all there is to it?

Mason also opened me the amazing ambiguities and possibilities in the Nancy Drew text that are out there in plain sight. She doesn't focus on this at all--or seem to notice it--but she chose a quote that made it all pop out for me. More on this later too ... and it's connection to Jane Austen.

I have a question: two of the three books I'm reading about children's literature were written in the 1970s (O'Keefe's book, however, was published in 2000). Is that because not much analysis has been written since then? Are there other books that standout that we should know about?

1 comment:

  1. I'm posting this for Alice:

    "All very interesting. May I just point out that Mrs. Church, in the Freddy books, is the wealthiest woman in town. She uses her privilege for good and is applauded for it. For example, In Clockwork Twin, the book in which she is introduced, she ransoms her jewels to save the kidnapped Byram and Freddy. The joke, of course, is that her jewels come from the five and dime. Why pay more, she reasons, when people can't tell the difference?"