Dr David Rudd is formerly Professor of Children’s Literature at University of Bolton and now has this title at the University of Roehampton, where he is also director of the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature (NCRCL). He has published around one hundred articles and three monographs on children’s literature: a look at Roald Dahl’s The Twits and children’s responses to it (A Communication Studies Approach to Children’s Literature, 1992), an examination of the enduring popularity of Enid Blyton (Enid Blyton and the Mystery of Children’s Literature, 2000) and, most recently, Reading the Child in Children’s Literature (2013), which argues for a fresh, more vibrant approach to studying children’s literature. He also edited The Routledge Companion to Children’s Literature (2010) and co-edits the international journal, Children’s Literature in Education.
Title: Forever Fractious: Probing Children’s Literature’s Faultlines
This paper begins by examining examples of children’s literature texts that are seen to be ‘pushing the envelope’; e.g. confronting genocide, sexual abuse, poverty, homelessness and ecological disaster. However, as this brief list suggests, there is often the inference that, in order to be ‘disruptive’, such texts must be iconoclastic, opening children’s formerly blinkered eyes to the world’s horrors. Whereas, of course, texts for children can also be disruptive in far more positive ways: opening up spaces for gender equality, normalising disability and celebrating cultural diversity. Clearly, oneperson’s disruption (positive) can be another’s discomposure (negative), as the foregrounding of homosexual issues has demonstrated (even when it concerns penguins!).
Though I would want to celebrate the widening range of topics that children’s books now discusses, it would be a mistake to forget that children’s literature has a far longer history of being disruptive, but, in many ways, this is because it has been fractured from the outset. It is ontologically riven at its heart, forever seeking to heal the faultlines across which it operates; the problem, that is, of who has possession in that possessive phrase, ‘children’s literature’: adult or child? It has therefore always struggled between the poles of instruction and entertainment, seeking to engage a being that might often not want to listen (the ‘beast in the nursery’), seeking to turn him/her into a biddable citizen. This, it will be argued, is the radical fracture that the literature tries, in its different ways, to conceal.