In this article, Leander Duthoy discusses how child and adult readers of children’s literature use the concepts of innocence and wisdom as age norms to reflect both on their own age and the age of fictional characters. He gathered data through semi-structured interviews and focus-group discussions with readers aged nine to seventy-five. In these conversations, Leander and his readers reflected on two Dutch language children’s books: Iep! (1996), written by Joke van Leeuwen, and Voor altijd samen, amen(1999), written by Guus Kuijer. Younger readers demonstrated an awareness of adult discourse surrounding childhood innocence, which some adopted without criticism, while others admitted to ‘performing’ innocence to escape adult ire. Furthermore, these same young readers also used innocence to ‘age’ young characters. For late adolescent and early adult readers, both young and old characters were sometimes deemed innocent. In contrast, older readers emphasised their own wisdom and reflected on the age of characters through that lens. Wisdom therefore emerged as a key age norm older readers used not only to praise older characters, but also to give positive meaning to their own experience of older adulthood. Notably, some characters that were perceived as especially wise by older readers were thought of as naïve and innocent by younger readers. Thus, the complexity of the readers’ responses challenged straightforward age-bound generalisations of wisdom and innocence.
Duthoy, Leander. ‘“I Became Much Wiser over Time”: Readers’ Use of Innocence and Wisdom as Age Norms in Responses to Children’s Literature’.
International Research in Children’s Literature, vol. 15, no. 3, 2022, pp. 279–293.