The link between age and power has been studied from various perspectives in children’s literature. While some scholars mainly focus on the adult’s power, others discuss power on the child’s part, like Clémentine Beauvais, who argues that a child’s ‘might’ lies in the future that lies ahead of them. In his broader research project, Leander Duthoy explores how the reader’s age affects their understanding of age in children’s literature. With this chapter in Children’s Cultures after Childhood, he adds to the age-power debate by analysing readers’ reflections on age in the Dutch children’s book Iep! (Eep!; Joke van Leeuwen, 1996), which he gathered through 29 individual interviews and two focus-group conversations with twenty participants aged 9 to 75. In addition, Leander moves away from a strictly age-based analysis and considers some of the different ways in which the discussion of power – the ability to bring about or prevent change – involves a more dynamic and interconnected understanding of people’s individual experiences.
The interviews took place online during the COVID-19 lockdown, resulting in disempowerment on the part of some of the older participants, who needed help with the technology used. The child participants were dependent on their parents, who corresponded with Leander in their child’s name to arrange the interview. Some parents impacted the situation by attending their child’s interview. In turn, a few young participants also exerted a form of power in showing resistance, saying they only partook in the study because their parents obligated them or because they had to read a book for school anyway. In all cases, instead of looking at someone receiving help as ‘powerlessness’, it could be seen as an intergenerational entanglement that is both empowering and an inherent part of how age is constructed in a broader social and material context. In short, Leander explores how the participants’ individual experiences of Iep! are influenced by many different factors other than age alone. In other words, power is something both adults and children possess and often (re)negotiate together, as power is relational; power is influenced by the connections between different people, things, ideas and situations.
Duthoy, Leander. ‘Chapter 7: The Dynamics of Age and Power in a Children’s Literature Research Assemblage’.
Children’s Cultures after Childhood, edited by Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak and Macarena García-González, John Benjamins, 2023, pp. 102–121.
In children’s literature, young readers come into contact with fictional representations of their own age, as well as other ages. How those age representations in literature are experienced by readers – both young and old – and how readers use those interpretations to shape and make sense of their own age and the age of characters are the key questions of Leander Duthoy’s article. Drawing on insights from age studies, gerontology (the study of ageing) and children’s literature studies, his research starts from the idea that age is not a mere biological factor, but is also shaped by social, historical and cultural values, structures and ideologies.
To investigate the impact of readers’ age on their understanding of age in children’s literature, Leander Duthoy conducted 40 individual interviews with nine- to 75-year-old readers about two books: Iep (Joke van Leeuwen, 1996) and Voor altijd samen, amen (Guus Kuijer, 2010). In addition, four group discussions were held, in which readers of different ages were able to respond to each other’s insights. All these conversations showed that both young and old readers hold stereotypical, negative views about ageing – so-called “decline narratives.” While the youngest readers used such decline narratives to form expectations about the older characters and about their own future, the responses of the older readers were more nuanced, as they mentioned both decline and the positive aspect of ageing – experience and wisdom. These reader responses teach us that decline narratives and perceptions of wisdom play a role in how readers of all ages understand their own age and the age of characters, but also that the very age of readers themselves influences their interpretation of decline and wisdom.
Duthoy, Leander. ‘Decline narratives en wijsheid: Hoe reflecteren lezers van alle leeftijden op de representatie van leeftijd in literatuur voor jonge lezers?’.
Cahier voor Literatuurwetenschap, vol. 14, 2023, pp. 141–155.
In recent decades, age studies has started to emerge as a new approach to study children’s literature. This book is co-authored by several members of the CAFYR team and builds on that scholarship but also significantly extends it by exploring age in various aspects of children’s literature: the age of the author, the characters, the writing style, the intended readership and the real reader. Moreover, the authors explore what different theories and methods can be used to study age in children’s literature, and what their affordances and limits are. The analyses combine age studies with life writing studies, cognitive narratology, digital humanities, comparative literary studies, reader-response research and media studies. To ensure coherence, the book offers an in-depth exploration of the oeuvre of a single author, David Almond. The aesthetic and thematic richness of Almond’s works has been widely recognised. This book adds to the understanding of his oeuvre by offering a multi-faceted analysis of age. In addition to discussing the film adaptation of his best-known novel Skellig, this book also offers analyses of works that have received less attention, such as Counting Stars, Clay and Bone Music. Readers will also get a fuller understanding of Almond as a crosswriter of literature for children, adolescents and adults.
Joosen, Vanessa, Michelle Anya Anjirbag, Leander Duthoy, Lindsey Geybels, Frauke Pauwels & Emma-Louise Silva. ‘Age in David Almond’s Oeuvre: A Multi-Method to Studying Age and the Life Course in Children’s Literature’.
Dreams can function in children’s books as a means to connect young characters and older figures in the story. In this article, Vanessa Joosen presents three methods to study intergenerational encounters in and through dreams in a selection of contemporary Dutch children’s books. She does this by means of a digital analysis of a corpus of 81 books to shows that the older the characters are, the less they are described as dreaming. Next, a close reading of intergenerational dreams lays bare, amongst others, the associations of dreaming with healing and death. Finally, a reader response study reveals that young children already understand some dream mechanisms and that older readers sometimes may draw on Freudian theory to interpret dreams, but that some also resist that.
Joosen, Vanessa. ‘Encounters of a Dreamy Kind: Dreams as Spaces for Intergenerational Play and Healing in Dutch Children’s Literature’.
Traum und Träumen in Kinder- und Jugendmedien, edited by Iris Schäfer, Brill, 2023, pp. 35–49.
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.
Bart Moeyaert has been writing for decennia. Ever since his debut, Duet met valse noten (which was published when he was nineteen years old), he has acquired great fame both in Belgium and internationally. In 2019, he won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, perhaps the most important international prize voor children’s literature. His personalexperiences and the age phases he went through influenced the ways in which his authorship evolved. Four experiences were especially important: meeting the British children’s literature author Aidan Chambers, writing early reader books, performing for broad audiences, and being the Antwerp city poet. These factors all contributed greatly to his personal and artistic beliefs, and to his ideas on what his readers and society in general were in need of.
Joosen, Vanessa. ‘Bart Moeyaert as Writer, Author, Performer, and Public Figure: “That’s Also What Literature Can Be”’.
Bookbird, vol. 58, no. 3, 2020, pp. 38–41.