Can you remember being utterly drawn into a book as a child? For me, perhaps the most blissful memory is “The Secret Garden,” by Frances Hodgson Burnett (the same pen gave us that sweet little boy known as “Little Lord Fauntleroy”).
Why am I inclined to predict that this wonderful book is omitted or else harshly hailed as being classist or racist in the new “The Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature: The Traditions in English Literature,” edited by a passel of professors?
A piece in the Claremont Review situates the new anthology in the history of children’s literature:
In their educational writings, John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau together mentioned only three books worthy of a child’s mind. Locke recommended Aesop’s Fables and Reynard the Fox, while in Emile the tutor Jean Jacques offered his charge only Robinson Crusoe. How times have changed. The new 2,471-page, lap-crushing Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature includes several hundred entries, both old and new. But far from representing an efflorescence in childhood literature, this volume marks the genre’s sad end.
The editors of the anthology acknowledge in passing their debt to Locke and Rousseau — who in a sense created our modern understanding of childhood, permanently influencing all subsequent children’s literature. The editors, however, wish to promote a revolution of their own: a new, more candid, and frankly, more nihilistic corpus. Despite heralding children’s literature as “life-enhancing” and “life-changing,” the Norton editors aim in fact to dampen children’s enchantment with the world, forcing them to acquiesce to the grim realities and multicultural obsessions of contemporary adults.
Read the whole piece. It outlines three revolutions in children’s literature.