This week we’re celebrating the wonders of children’s literature with guest posts from authors making new contributions to the field. Below, Roni Natov reflects on her new book The Courage to Imagine: The Child Hero in Children’s Literature.
For me, childhood has always been a state of mind, a landscape, the bedrock of my adult consciousness. So, The Courage to Imagine: The Child Hero in Children’s Literature, contains the way I see the world and the way that world is often reflected in children’s literature. What seems most natural in children, the imagination, can be cut off, repressed, limited by discouraging adults and by the larger culture. And then, how do children (even we as adults) have the courage to retrieve that most powerful of our gifts—the imagination? How do courageous and ingenious children’s book authors and illustrators re-imagine our early experiences, states of mind, the early places where we go to revitalize our creativity?
The Courage to Imagine looks at contemporary children’s books and their forebears in terms of ideas that are challenging, fascinating and current: stories about diversity—ethnic, racial, cultural, and gender differences, as well as differences in sensibility, voice, style. It depicts books of longing and liberation, trauma and healing, adventure and contemplation, all in inviting and readerly language, so that scholars and lay readers can enter and enjoy the discussion. It is a pioneer book that includes creative and autobiographical pieces, and anecdotes that make for intimate reading.
My desire to write this book grew out of what I needed and didn’t find in the scholarship of children’s literature. Not that I didn’t gain from recent theoretical and critical approaches—I did, and I contributed to the field early on by co-founding The Lion and the Unicorn, a Critical Journal of Children’s Literature in 1977, which is currently published by Johns Hopkins University Press, and by publishing my books, Leon Garfield (Twayne 1994, about the late formidable British writer of historical fiction), and The Poetics of Childhood (Routledge 2003, 2005). However, The Courage to Imagine, in its wide and personal scope, continues in what I hope is inviting prose and offers a new approach to writing about children’s books and the child hero.
I have been teaching children’s literature for many years now. I entered the field when it was jokingly called “kitty litter,” dismissed as fun but not serious. Over the years my students and I have explored many aspects of the field until now, as a burgeoning discipline, interdisciplinary and expanded, re-imagined as the literature of childhood, it is a place where adults and children come together in their past and present childhoods.
Roni Natov is Professor of English at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, USA. A multi-award winning teacher and scholar, she is the founding editor of The Lion and the Unicorn: A Critical Journal of Children’s Literature and her previous publications include The Poetics of Childhood (2005). Her new book The Courage to Imagine: The Child Hero in Children’s Literature is now available in the Bloomsbury Perspectives on Children’s Literature series.