Children’s literature is traditionally seen as a carrier of various ideologies as well as an important factor in children’s socialisation, for example in terms of the representation of age. A children’s book that portrays older characters as frail people with old-fashioned habits will influence the young reader’s perception of older people in their own environment, perhaps resulting in them viewing the older generation with a negative attitude. Vice versa, when children often come into contact with stories in which older characters walk their own paths full of zest for life, they are likely to view older people differently in real life. In this article, Lindsey Geybels argues that not only children’s literature, but also fiction for young adults and adults, has an impact on the perception of age, specifically older adulthood, among its readers. In a corpus of 41 Dutch books written for different ages, the representation of older men and women is studied using the verbs, grammatical possessions and adjectives associated with characters of this age.
Geybels, Lindsey. ‘Shuffling Softly, Sighing Deeply: A Digital Inquiry into Representations of Older Men and Women in Literature for Different Ages‘.
Soc. Sci. (2023): 12(3)
The oeuvres of ‘crosswriters’ or ‘dual audience authors’ who write for both children and adults form the perfect touchstones for research on the similarities and differences between children’s literature and literature for adults. By means of stylometry, a digital research method that aids in studying style, the works of ten Dutch and English language dual audience authors were examined. Are there similarities to be found across the oeuvres of these authors? And are there differences within one author’s books that are targeted at different age groups? To research these questions, the target audience and the publication date were factors that were taken into account. By including interviews with the authors, the researchers also considered the writers’ views on style and readers. The main conclusion drawn from the case studies is that the style of the texts usually correlates more strongly with the age of the intended reader than with the time period in which the texts were written. In other words, books for young readers share more similarities than those for adult readers.
Haverals, Wouter, Geybels, Lindsey & Vanessa Joosen. ‘A style for every age : a stylometric inquiry into crosswriters for children, adolescents and adults‘.
Language and literature (2022): 1-23.
As with other twenty-first-century rewritings of fairytales, Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron complicates the classic ‘Cinderella’ fairytale narrative popularized by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm for new audiences, queering and race-bending the tale in its decidedly feminist revision of the story. However, as we argue here, the novel also provides an interesting intervention in the construction of age as related to gender for its female protagonists. Drawing on Sylvia Henneberg’s examination of ageist stereotypes in fairytale classics and Susan Pickard’s construction of the figure of the hag, we explore the dialogic between the fairytale revision, traditional fairytale age ideology and the intersection of age and gender in this reinvention of the classic narrative. By focusing on constructions of age, particularly senescence, we demonstrate how complex constructions of older characters might aid in overall depictions of intergenerational relationships, and how these intergenerational relationships in turn reflect historical and cultural impetuses of retelling fairytale narratives.
Anjirbag, Michelle Anya & Joosen, Vanessa. “You Have to Set the Story You Know Aside”: constructions of youth, adulthood and senescence in Cinderella Is Dead.
Humanities 11.1 (2022): 25.
Many fairy tale adaptations play with the storylines and the values and norms of traditional fairy tales. Some of these fairy tales have stood at the centre of literary studies, such as Wolf (1990) by Gillian Cross, an award-winning rewriting of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. Feminist perspectives have strongly influenced the fairy-tale rewritings of the past decades, but the intersection of gender with other identity markers deserves more attention. Gender is often interwoven with images regarding age. At first, Cross depicts the grandmother as a cunning, determined woman. But her story also includes stereotypical images of the ‘wise old mentor’ and the ‘incapable little old woman’, for example. Cross thereby leaves the intergenerational collaboration aside that does feature at the end of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ as it was written by the Brothers Grimm.
Joosen, Vanessa. ‘Rewriting the Grandmother’s Story. Old Age in “Little Red Riding Hood” and Gillian Cross’ Wolf‘.
Fabula 62.1-2 (2021): 172-184.
Many books for children are about young characters. However, older characters are also often featured in stories for children, and characters’ ages can change throughout certain books. By reading such stories, children find out about ideas regarding age via books. Stereotypes such as the ‘old witch’, or the ‘wise old mentor’ spark ideas that old women are mean, or that old people are wiser than younger people. There are, however, just as well books that have the intention of distancing themselves from entrenched ideas. More and more attention is being given to intergenerational dialogue and a nuanced view of old age. Research on age in books and the ways in which readers deal with such images can show how children’s literature contributes to ideas on age.
Joosen, Vanessa. ‘Aging in children’s literature’.
Eds. Gu, D. & M.E. Dupre. Encyclopedia of gerontology and population aging. Cham, Springer, 2019. p. 1-5.