Can or should authors only write books for children if they themselves are still young or childlike enough? And when is ‘old’ still considered ‘young enough’? In the book Hoe oud is jong? (How old is young?), Vanessa Joosen advocates for greater awareness of the concept of age as a social construct. She provides insight into important views and theories within age studies and how they interact with societal visions on age and ageing. In doing so, she uses and encourages an open view of age norms and encourages constructive dialogue between people of different ages and generations. For this book, she interviewed twelve British, Flemish, and Dutch authors who have written books for both young and old readers, and who moreover released their debuts at a very young age or have had long writing careers: David Almond, Aidan Chambers, Anne Fine, Ed Franck, Guus Kuijer, Bart Moeyaert, Aline Sax, Hilde Vandermeeren, Joke van Leeuwen, Edward van de Vendel, Jacqueline Wilson, and Anna Woltz. Based on these conversations, Vanessa Joosen tackles the question of how these authors manage or have managed to bridge that (perceived) distance between young and old.
Joosen, Vanessa. Hoe oud is jong?
Children’s literature is often marked by an imbalance in age, as adult authors write for young readers. For this article, Vanessa Joosen interviewed seven children’s and young adult authors – Aidan Chambers, Guus Kuijer, Jacqueline Wilson, Anne Fine, David Almond, Joke Van Leeuwen, and Bart Moeyaert – to investigate how they negotiate and reflect on the growing temporal gap between their present age, their own youth, and their young readership when writing children’s or young adult literature. Although literary scholars typically avoid drawing direct parallels between authors’ lives and their fictional works, it cannot be denied that writers do draw on real-life experiences for inspiration and context.
Vanessa Joosen explores how the authors’ internal interactions between childhood and adulthood can take different shapes. It can lead to an emotional reconnection and a revision of past experiences on the one hand, and to new insights and even healing in their adult lives on the other hand. For example, David Almond explains how writing about the traumatic experiences of losing his sister and father at a young age was a coping mechanism, where instead of confronting these sad experiences directly, he reimagined them and used them as a basis for his fiction. Moreover, in creating child characters as an adult, the author’s adult experience and writing practice can also add new perspectives to their own engagement with childhood in general: instead of seeing children as lacking knowledge and experience, children’s authors cultivate the feeling of kinship in their writing, as they look for common ground between generations. Children’s literature offers a space where adults and children can come together, in and through stories. And although those fictional stories cannot be assumed to reflect experiences from childhood or adulthood perfectly authentically, they can be a start of real conversations through which generations can gain more understanding of what divides them, but more importantly, of what connects them.
Joosen, Vanessa. ‘Children’s Literature: Young Readers, Older Authors’.
The Bloomsbury Handbook to Ageing in Contemporary Literature and Film, edited by Sarah Falcus, Heike Hartung, and Raquel Medina, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2023, pp. 51–62.
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.
David Almond’s The Savage (2008), illustrated by Dave McKean, demonstrates how narrating enables the adolescent protagonist, Blue Baker, to explore themes of loss, grief and bullying in the embedded graphic narrative he creates about a savage boy, a story Blue calls ‘The Savage’. The metanarrative utterances in The Savage not only reveal Blue’s reflections regarding his role as narrator of ‘The Savage’, they are vital for understanding his experience of continuity-in-change. The Savage, which is ultimately a book about storytelling and illustrating, shows Blue engaging in reflective and transformative ‘narrative self-shaping’ (Hutto 2016). Based on narrative medicine, cognitive narratology, age studies and children’s literature studies, this essay underscores the importance of analysing age-related metanarrative comments in characters’ creative acts of shaping the self via narratives, ultimately showing how narrating tales and sharing stories can be empowering, and this across the lifespan.
Silva, Emma-Louise. ‘Continuity-in-Change in David Almond’s The Savage: Narrative Self-Shaping in Moments of Metanarrative’.
European Journal of Life Writing, vol. 11, 2022, pp. 93–111.
This essay demonstrates the fruitfulness of applying a lens based on 4E-inspired cognitive narratology to David Almond’s My Name is Mina (2010) in order to illuminate how the so-called cognitive-affective imbalance between children and adults needs reassessing, especially when it comes to memory. Merging recent developments in 4E – or embodied, embedded, extended, and enactive – approaches to cognition as proposed in philosophy of mind, with concepts such as fictional minds and storyworlds as discussed in cognitive narratology, I engage in close readings of My Name is Mina that reveal kinship between the adult author and his child character. Adults and children alike are “memorial fabulators” (Chambers), and 4E approaches to the cognitive study of literature can enrich the field of children’s literature studies and its considerations of adult authors’ mind depictions of child characters.
Silva, Emma-Louise. ‘Cognitive Narratology and the 4Es: Memorial Fabulation in David Almond’s My Name is Mina’.
Age, Culture, Humanities, vol. 6, 2022, pp. 1–29.