This is a collection of short essays, almost all by young critics, many of them recent graduates or current higher degree students. Since they are also an international group, the book provides a very wide overview of current trends in children’s literature criticism, and will interest the growing number of academics and other students peddling wares in this new market. Several of the essays are also timely and even important for writers, teachers, librarians and other non-specialist academics concerned with children’s reading. These, which I will list, are the essays that have a coherent argument to advance, are not impossibly jargon-ridden, consist of rather more than dogged applications to children’s literature of theory drawn from other fields, and are in control of the language they use. Some other pieces here are desperate and pitiful efforts to establish academic credentials by muddled displays of jargon for jargon’s sake. They are depressing evidence of the damage being done by the academic industrialisation of children’s literature, and are useless to people working for children.
This should not put readers off from chasing the book up for the following essays, all of which are well researched and argued (and for that reason too complex to summarise in a phrase or sentence), and explore questions that matter to everyone working on children’s books: ‘Messy New Freedoms: Queer Theory and Children’s Literature’ by Rebecca Rabinowitz; ‘All There in Black and White: Examining Race and Ethnicity in Children’s Literature’ by Karen Sands O’Connor; ‘A Publisher’s Dilemma: The Place of the Child in the Publication of Children’s Books’ by Laura Atkins; ‘Storytelling and the Adult/Child Relationship in Geraldine McCaughrean’s A Pack of Lies, or the Dilemma of Children’s Fiction’ by Virginie Douglas; ‘Proposing a Methodology for the Study of Nation(ality)in Children’s Literature’ by Dominique Sandis; and (best of all, a truly important essay) ‘Children’s Literature in Translation from East to West’ by Gabrielle Thomson-Wohlgemuth. These comprise about half the book, and make it a worthwhile purchase despite the rest.