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’.
Diana Wynne Jones’s Fire and Hemlock (1984) and Ali Smith’s Autumn (2016) are two British novels that evoke an intense friendship between a girl and an older man. In this article, Vanessa Joosen explores their experimental narrative forms which include a complex chronology, unreliable narrator, dream scenes, gaps, and a rich intertextual network to frame an intergenerational friendship that can be read as intergenerational desire. The experimental narratives and reflections on the fluidity of age enable Smith and Jones to evoke this controversial topic without fulling addressing it. A lot is at stake for Fire and Hemlock, given that it is addressed to young readers and there is concern that children’s books could be used for grooming. Controversially, both novels locate the desire in the young girl rather than the old man and explore the agency and moments of disempowerment that the female characters experience. However, an age gap between childhood and adulthood is crucial in qualifying a relationship as “intergenerational desire,” and here, the novels’ experimental structures and fuzzy chronologies create ambiguity. In addition, the books create confusion about the nature of the attraction between the characters. They exploit the ambiguity that incomplete memories, unreliable narration, narrative gaps, metaphors, and intertextual references leave when thematizing what could be defined as friendship, kinship, love, and/or sexual attraction.
Joosen, Vanessa. ‘Holding Hands: Intergenerational Desire in Diana Wynne Jones’s Fire and Hemlock and Ali Smith’s Autumn’.
Poetics Today, vol. 44, no. 1–2, 2023, pp. 131–156.
In this essay, Michelle Anya Anjirbag uses Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, The Sleeper and the Spindle, and ‘Chivalry’ to examine the intersection of age and gender in his fairy-tale appropriations to consider how fantasy can reiterate stereotypical representations of older women. By drawing on the age studies work of Sylvia Henneberg and Susan Pickard to consider ageism as a cross-section to gendered constructions in Gaiman’s works, she makes visible how age affects perception and construction of gender, which can lead to the intertwining of age stereotypes and gendered double standards.
Anjirbag, Michelle Anya. ‘No Country for Old Women: Age, Power, and Beauty in Neil Gaiman’s Fantasies’.
Marvels & Tales, vol. 37, no. 1, 2023, pp. 3–20.
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.
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.
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’.
Social Sciences, vol. 12, no. 3, 2023, p. 112.