I became a librarian for many reasons, with many influences. One of them is Julia Mickenberg’s work on children’s literature and the Left. She spoke at UF in 2004, and I’m sharing a few brief notes here because it’s time to lend away my copy of the book. These notes are for my reference, and a nice way to remember sharing an important book.
Julia L. Mickenberg. Learning from the Left: Children’s Literature, the Cold War, and Radical Politics in the United States. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Page 5: “Some people did turn to children’s literature because other avenues were closed to them; Fast himself would claim that ‘children’s books are a freer market’ than books for adults. A number of teachers who list their jobs for political reasons realized they could reach far more children anyway by writing books.”
Page 7: “most children’s books by left-wing writers were published by regular trade presses, and most were widely available—and widely disseminated—not just in bookstores but, even more important, in school and public libraries. The children who read these books were encouraged to trust their own instincts, imaginations, and critical capacities. They were able to find books promoting a sense of social justice and a communitarian ethic; exploring the histories of peoples and groups previously ignored (such as African Americans, women, and the working class); and providing tools for understanding and harnessing science and technology for the good human beings and the environment.”
Page 7: “Children’s literature is traditionally understood as a force supporting the dominant, bourgeois status quo. […] By reaffirming the existing social order, much of the familiar children’s literature of the twentieth century at least implicitly supports the individualistic values of capitalism and the policies of the United States abroad, reifies traditional gender roles, and assumes a white, middle-class norm. […] On the other hand, as literary scholar Alison Lurie reminds us, there is a long tradition of ‘subversive’ children’s literature, of stories that ‘appeal to the imaginative, questioning, rebellious child in all of us.’”
Page 14: “The particular status of children’s books as cultural objects also made them unique, offering a measure of protection from scrutiny while simultaneously guaranteeing sales.”
Page 14-15: children’s books as beneath the literary establishment, which escaped the scrutiny faced by comics, music, and television
Page 15: “children’s literature was a field largely controlled by women, which contributed to both its devaluation within a hierarchy of literary production and its ‘inconspicuousness.’ As the field was undervalued, it was, likewise, overlooked. […] But the children’s literature field was not simply overlooked. It was also protected by the unquestioned authority of the ‘child guardians,’ who vouched for the moral, educational, psychosocial, and literary qualities of children’s books and who were themselves generally liberal in orientation (except in matters of race, where the pressures exerted by southern markets had an undeniable effect). The children’s book field was small enough that many actors within it had close connections and, in most cases, responded to one another on a personal level, usually not bothering with the technical details of a person’s political affiliation. In effect, a tightly knit network of professional women held positions in nearly all levels of the field and, as such, exerted tremendous power. Indeed, one woman might gain a foothold in several arenas, beginning as a teacher or librarian, then going into editing, and then writing her own children’s books. These women’s specialized knowledge concerning children, and the feminized position of children’s literature within a literary hierarchy, allowed the field to operate with low visibility.”
Page 19: children’s literature with left impact “be capable of making the world anew.”
Page 234: textbooks and control, textbooks teaching “Americanism versus Communism […]. This approach to history was in marked contrast to the critical approach to history advocated by progressive educators in the 1920s and 1930s: those educators had argued that ‘education for citizenship’ would emphasize critical thinking and human values rather than patriotism and would stress the value of public service over the mere attainment of wealth.”
Page 234: study of textbooks by Frances FitzGerald, “by the 1950s, all references to poverty in America were eliminated”
Page 281: “Today, in the twenty-first century, the Right and the Left are still sparring over textbook content as well as children’s books. Despite the flood of ‘multicultural’ children’s books, not all the gains in this realm from the 1960s and 1970s have been permanent.”