Encounters of a dreamy kind

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.

doi: 10.30965/9783846767481_003

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Becoming wiser over time

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.

doi: 10.3366/ircl.2022.0467

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How old is young?

With this essay, Vanessa Joosen wants to contribute to greater awareness regarding age. She argues for more openness about age norms and more dialogue between different generations. To this end, she focuses on people who engage in such a dialogue on a daily basis.
For this book, she interviewed twelve British, Dutch and Flemish authors: 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.
Most of them wrote books for both children and adults. Joosen specifically went looking for authors who debuted at a very young age or who have a long writing career behind them. How do they manage to bridge that distance?

Joosen, Vanessa. Hoe oud is jong?

Letterwerk, 2022.

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A style for every age

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, Lindsey Geybels & Vanessa Joosen. A Style for Every Age: A Stylometric Inquiry into Crosswriters for Children, Adolescents and Adults’.

Language and Literature, vol. 31, no. 1, 2022, pp. 1–23.

doi: 10.1177/0963947021107216

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Digital humanities growing up

Digital techniques haven’t been put to use that often in studies revolving around children’s literature. They do, however, allow for large-scale research possibilities concerning book collections, and they can reveal unexpected patterns. Take for example the analysis of Guus Kuijer’s oeuvre. His novels, and more specifically his novels for children, contain a striking number of explicit reflections and generalisations regarding age. The child characters in Kuijer’s books often judge behaviour that is ‘childish’: they guard ideas on what it means to be a child more than adult characters do. Of course, it’s important to combine ‘distant reading’, techniques by means of which the computer searches for patterns in large corpora, with ‘close reading’, carried out by researchers who pay attention to the specific context of the novel in question. It’s clear that digital text analysis is no longer in its infancy, and that it can make a valuable contribution to the study of children’s literature, which can in turn contribute to the study of age.

Haverals, Wouter & Vanessa Joosen. Constructing Age in Children’s Literature: A Digital Approach to Guus Kuijer’s Oeuvre.

The Lion and the Unicorn, vol. 45, no. 1, 2021, pp. 25–45.

doi: 10.1353/uni.2021.0002

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Too childish for children? A digital inquiry into children’s literature

Age determines the form and content of children’s books in many ways. People havexed ideas about what is suitable for a particular age and what is not, and digital tools can help to map and ask questions about such age norms on a large scale. For this project, the computer ‘read’ 32 Dutch-language children’s books published between 1975 and 2018, and it appears that explicit comments are often made about age in children’s books. Not only do we pay attention to childhood in the project, other life stages are explored as well. It seems that children’s books guard age norms the most, but these comments are often coloured by conflicts, humour, and irony.  

Joosen Vanessa. Te kinderachtig voor de kinderen? Leeftijdsnormen in jeugdliteratuur digitaal onderzocht.

Vooys: tijdschrift voor letteren, vol. 37, no.3, 2019, pp. 1–9.

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