Extra Reading, for next Monday

Philip Nel’s announcement of his forthcoming book, _Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature, and Why We Need Diverse Books_:


Debbie Reese, “Some questions about . ..”


The comments are worth reading.


In addition, here is Marilisa Jiménez García reflecting on the last ChLA conference:




Primary — Erasing Second Generation Memory

Since Sarah has done such an excellent job laying out Ulanowicz’s methodologies and arguments, I don’t feel the need to belabor them here. To quote Sarah’s fabulous gloss, “[Second-generation memory] isn’t a passive reception of memories, but an active integration of the past into one’s present life – a critical awareness of how the memories of past generations can affect one’s own interpretation of self.” With this awareness in mind, I’m going to turn both briefly to The Giver and then, more substantially, to Veronica Roth’s Allegiant, the last installment in the Divergent trilogy.

First, however, I want to offer a brief foray into moments in my teaching where I’ve used ideas drawn from Ulanowicz and other scholars dealing with transgenerational trauma (which is a term more often used in explicit studies of race-based trauma, and I found myself wondering in Ulanowicz’s text about the need to create a completely separate term for her ideas). This gifset (also embedded below) was an excellent, excellent conversation-starter to explore transgenerational trauma and the denial of this trauma in both popular culture and dominant educational systems.


Analyzing this gifset in class opened up a plethora of opportunities for exploring both agency and oppression in the creation of history and the ways that this history affectively (to say the least) impacts people’s day-to-day lives.

And now… to The Giver! A brief note — I was disappointed by Ulanowicz’s lack of centralizing racial oppression in The Giver. As Mary J. Couzelis’s “The Future is Pale” essay in Carrie and Kate’s book discusses at length, the central memory issues are kind of meta-textual: everyone seems to be white in this future that Lowry creates, and this goes unquestioned both in the text and in many popular reader responses. The biggest memory issue, therefore, is one of racial violence: unacknowledged white supremacy has erased the history of racism that is absolutely central to the kind of oppression that The Giver supposedly critiques in the first place. Erasing racist violence in the narrative re-enacts this violence, and I was surprised that this was not the central feature of Ulanowicz’s analysis here.

This leads me to my “primary” analysis, of Allegiant.

In brief, the plot of Allegiant centralizes a conflict of memory versus the forcible erasure of memory. (The details are… quite muddy, because, well… it wasn’t, perhaps, the best planned out book in the history of the world. But, happily, the major details aren’t too necessary right now. The basics: The city that Tris, the protagonist, comes from [Chicago] has been subjected to a massive memory wipe, generations before, so that the dystopian U.S. government can experiment on the population in an essentially country-wide eugenics project. The experiment isn’t going as planned, so the government wants to wipe out the memory of Chicago’s inhabitants, which Tris equates to killing them. Then she… well, she — SPOILERS — does it to the government. *deep breath* Okay.)

Thus, the entire premise of Allegiant is that massive amounts of people have forcibly had their memories removed ‘for their own good.’ Inter-generational memory, for Tris, is therefore based on both brutal realities, passionate joys, and historical lies.

However, when she encounters people who still know U.S. history, race is never brought up. Though the novel has very strange and unsettling racial dynamics (I have a book chapter on it that’s in the works for publication, and I’m presenting on it at MLA — who else is gonna be in that hell hole?), race — moreover, racism — itself is never explicitly discussed in the narrative. Never.

So… the characters have literally had their memories of racism erased, and the narrative — the part that readers interact with (meta!) has also erased race. The generation of fictional children that Tris belongs to have literally been born into a self-contained city whose history is based on memory-altered lies, and the generation of real-world children that read about Tris are also having racism erased from their minds vis a vis the disturbing erasure of it in the narrative.

What, then, does second-generation memory mean when the refusal to transmit full memories (in this world and in future Tris’s world) actually perpetuates transgenerational trauma through erasure? What of the ways that transmission of transgenerational trauma by interpollating second-generation memories into generations who have not experienced such oppressions re-creates new oppressions (I’m wondering here about many things, including the potential hierarchicalization involved in needing to mediate Zlata’s Diary through Anne Frank)? What of ethics when memories inflict trauma? Thinking of the gifset above, what of ethics when memories are contemporary and transmitting knowledge across generations provides young people with tools to (try to) survive?

Method: Ulanowicz’s Second-Generation Memory

In Second-Generation Memory and Contemporary Children’s Literature, Anastasia Ulanowicz presents a compelling analysis of the theme and process of memory as demonstrated by several primary texts and numerous theoretical underpinnings. Her introduction sets up her working definition of “second-generation memory,” as well as situates her ideas within the field of memory studies, paying particular attention to the language of her label compared to other theorists who favor terms such as Marianne Hirsch’s “postmemory” (7).

For Ulanowicz, second-generation memory “is a form of collective memory that involves an individual’s conscious incorporation of her elders’ memories of a traumatic past within her own mnemonic repertoire” (4). A large component of this type of memory is how it becomes framed “by a profound self-awareness” (4). It isn’t a passive reception of memories, but an active integration of the past into one’s present life – a critical awareness of how the memories of past generations can affect one’s own interpretation of self. Ulanowicz presents Children’s Literature as a particularly rich field for this type of memory-study, noting: “It is especially important to consider how second-generation-themed children’s books imagine and construct their audiences because such texts often aim not only to represent such memory but to produce it as well. These books are often the first sources representing historical trauma that young people encounter; moreover, the images and stories these texts depict are potentially powerful enough to remain entrenched in readers’ memories and to shape their historical and ethical perspectives” (22). Children’s Literature texts have the ability to both document past memories, as well as shape new ones. And while Ulanowicz may present her child-readers as impressionable here – being molded by the memories they acquire – she is careful to also offer them agency by exploring the numerous ways they may choose to integrate these memories into their lives, from being agents of radical social change to using them to reflect on more personal problems.

In the following chapters, Ulanowicz offers insightful close readings of her primary texts in order to elaborate and expand her theoretical concepts. She uses The Giver to explore the “ethical dimension” of second-generation memory, whereby “such memory incorporates obligation to and responsibility for others” (16). She also uses this text to grapple with the process of second-generation memory acquisition. Based on an examination of the relationship between Jonas and the Giver, Ulanowicz claims that “second-generation memory develops within the context of physical and psychological intimacy” (42). While this is not always limited to familial relationships – such as in the case of Zlata’s Diary where the protagonist’s second-generation memory is mediated by the cultural artifact of Anne Frank’s own diary – there is a recurring idea of some form of “kinship” (91) that takes place between givers and receivers of memory.

One place where I wish Ulanowicz had gone further in her chapter on The Giver was her brief mentioning of the Giver’s daughter who “committed suicide after inheriting only a few sorrowful memories” (54). This offhand reference to a rather poignant plot point would seem to open up interesting questions about the parameters necessary for successful transference of second-generation memory. His daughter’s suicide seems to beg for analysis, especially as Ulanowicz posits that the Giver increasingly takes on the father-role for Jonas. Although we may assume the Giver and his daughter had the “the trust, intimacy, and affection that make possible the transfer of one generation’s memory to the next” (45), it was still unsuccessful. What is the difference between Jonas and the Giver’s daughter in terms of their ability to assume the role of memory-bearer? While Ulanowicz notes earlier in the chapter that the position of the second-generation memory bearer is not that of the “exceptional” individual, but instead is available to anyone who is willing and ready to critically engage with their surroundings, the daughter’s suicide perhaps serves as a warning or reminder that past trauma can be equally jarring even in the present moment, even when experienced through storytelling as opposed to direct witnessing.

One of the strengths of Ulanowicz’s work is how it allows for a plurality of meaning by looking at texts that treat second-generation memory quite differently. She explicitly refers to works that she knows go against the grain, or lead to a more complex definition of her theme, perhaps beating some of her critics to the punch. However, while I appreciate this move, I also believe her arguments are strongest when they stayed tied to explicit, as opposed to implicit, interpretations of those texts. For example, in her final chapter, she argues that in The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, “The reader is prompted, in other words, to recognize the vulnerability embodied by Petit and his impromptu audience – and in turn, to acknowledge the much more radical vulnerability felt by the U.S. at the moment of the September 11th attacks” (178). And while she does make a case for this type of reading, referring to graphic connections between the text’s images and photographs from the actual event, she also admits: “Of course, it may be readily argued that the political implications of Gerstein’s text will be missed by his targeted audience: after all, the intended readers of The Man Who Walked Between the Towers are presumably children with little to no memory of the tragic event which the book subtly commemorates, let alone the still earlier (inter)national conflicts his text implies. Indeed, one could hardly argue that most adults…would immediately grasp the correspondences implicit within Gerstein’s text. And yet, it is important to recognize that such correspondences are still there, as it were, for the taking. Their recognition, however, ultimately depends upon a mode of perception that is associative rather than strictly rational – a mode of perception that, as I have argued in the preceding chapters, is inherent in the most naive, and least mediated, forms of second-generation memory” (183). Ulanowicz attempts to justify her non-traditional readings; yet, her final sentence here reads a bit ambiguously. While I don’t disagree that an associative reading can have value, I think her admission that the overwhelming majority of readers would not interpret the text this way may undermine the strength of her argument.

Primary: Second Generation Memory

I eagerly signed up for this week as my primary blog post because I wanted to write about The Giver. As soon as I started reading Second Generation Memory, though, I realized my primary blog post would be totally different. And somewhat long, so tip: the actual analysis is at the end, but I have quite a bit of setup first.

Anastasia Ulanowicz writes that “the child of concentration camp survivors is profoundly aware of the fact that she might not exist if the material circumstances and series of events that her elders encountered had varied even to the slightest degree” (15). I am not actually the child of survivors, but my parents both are. I’m a grandchild of three survivors. And I was always profoundly aware of the fact. If my grandmother had not been smuggling sugar across the Polish-Russian border to feed her family, if the Russians hadn’t caught her and sent her to Siberia where she met up with her father and brothers who had been captured earlier, she would have been sent to Auschwitz with her mother, sisters, and younger brothers a week later. They were all killed immediately upon arrival. She would have been killed, I would not exist.

I never heard that story from my grandmother, though. I heard it numerous times from my mother, her daughter.

My other grandmother was sent from Vienna to England on the Kindertransport, an initiative sending children out of troubled zones to England at the start of the war. She never spoke about it either. But when she and my grandfather were visiting once, she saw a book on my nightstand – Far From the Place They Called Home. It’s a popular Jewish Young Adult novel about five boys sent on the Kindertransport. She read it in one night, and the next morning she sat next to me on the sofa, held my hand, and told me about how she and her brother escaped, how her mother was brought over later as a cleaning woman, how they went to the countryside in Scotland when London was being bombed. That was the most I’ve ever heard her talk about the war.

I wanted to ask her which town in Scotland she stayed in, but she passed away seven years ago, before I ever asked her.

Growing up, we heard story upon story of life “before the war,” and about the strength and faith of individuals and groups during the war and just after liberation. The stories of atrocities we got from books.

For my primary response, I’m going to provide a perspective that Ulanowicz doesn’t cover, one that isn’t covered in most surveys or discussions of children’s literature: the literature of the Orthodox Jewish community. It’s a literature exclusive to Orthodox Judaism, published by Orthodox publishers and sold in Judaica stores. These are not very accessible outside of the cloistered Orthodox communities. Though some Orthodox Jewish children do, to varying degrees, read non-Jewish books, we never did read secular books about the Holocaust. My purpose here is to explore how second generation memory as Ulanowicz describes it works in this specific demographic and with this specific set of literature.

Ulanowicz clarifies that she focuses on the texts’ representation of and contribution to the conceptualization of second generation memory, but that she refrains from studying human response to the texts, leaving that to psychologists and reader response critics (20). I’m going to be that reader response critic here, drawing on my own experiences, on those of my friends and sisters, and on what I observe in the shift of Holocaust books from my own generation to the current generation of children’s Holocaust books. Following is a kind of annotated bibliography, with an analysis at the end. I’ve divided them roughly into four categories: 1) “early” memoirs, 2) “early” fiction, 3) later memoirs, 4) later fiction.

1) “early” memoirs:
Sisters in the Storm, by Anna Eilenberg (1992)
Part of the series The Holocaust Diaries. The first Holocaust book I read, as a ten year old. My sister says she read this when she was seven. (This is the typical age. Important details for thinking about how and when second generation memory is formed.) Chana (Anna) lives in Lodz, Poland and is forced to move with her family into the Lodz ghetto. Conditions are terrible, and she is eventually sent to two different concentration camps. The abridged version I read as a child ends with liberation and displaced persons camp, but the full version follows her to Israel and details the rebuilding of her family, her marriage, children, and grandchildren.

Some of the episodes that I remember vividly to this day:
– She and her sister sneaking out to join learning groups for girls, risking their lives because the Nazis were patrolling the streets.
– Her brother being told by the doctor that he’s very sick and needs to eat meat, but refusing to do so because the only meat available was non-kosher horse meat. He dies a week later, revered and respected for his conviction.
– Her father stealing wooden fences to heat their apartment and their Polish neighbor informing the Nazis and then revealing his hiding place when the Nazis were looking for him.
– The Jewish kapo beating the inmates until they were bloody because she had been praised so much by the Nazi guards that she stopped identifying with her Jewish sisters.

Those Who Never Yielded, by Moshe Prager (1997)
Originally written in Hebrew and translated to English. Short stories detailing teenaged boys in ghettoes and concentration camps who defied the Nazis. Defiance is exhibited by observing holidays and organizing prayer groups even at the risk of death.

2) “early” fiction
A Light for Greytowers, by Eva Vogiel and Ruth Steinberg (1992)
Miriam and her mother escape Russia during the Czar’s rule and flee to England. Miriam’s father has fled earlier, but they have no way of contacting each other, and husband and wife are desperately trying to find each other. Miriam winds up in an orphanage, which is run by a draconian woman. Miriam finds out that all the girls there are actually Jewish, and she leads them in a revolution against the witch-like Miss Grimshaw. They begin to observe Shabbos and keep kosher. Miriam’s mother and father find her and each other at the orphanage, Miss Grimshaw flees in disgrace, and all the girls get a loving warm Jewish house mother – Miriam’s mother.

A Thorn Among the Roses, by Eva Vogiel (1990s)
First of a series. After the war, young girls are left homeless and distraught. A few women set up a school in England’s countryside where they can begin life anew. Intrigue ensues in the form of an anti-Semitic neighbor and his accomplice (who is inside the school as an employee disguised as a Jew), danger and kidnapping of two girls, and eventual reuniting and safety at the school.

3) later memoirs
A Boy Named 68818, by Israel Starck, as told to Miriam (Starck) Miller (2015)
I haven’t read this one, but my sister gave it to me when I went to pick up the others… The title is a reference to the numbers tattooed on the arms of concentration camp inmates. In lieu of a summary, here are some blurbs from the back of the book:
“A spellbinding book. Starck is an ember saved from the inferno of World War II.”
“Starck’s unpretentious account and his extraordinary courage tested in the hellfire of World War II reveals his faith and humanity and will surely inspire young people to treasure the richness of faith.”
“Srulek’s [common Hasidic nickname for Israel] strength of spirit enabled him to survive and thrive. This is a story that should be shared!”

4) later fiction
I don’t have any particular titles for this category, but here’s a sweeping generalization: Novels of the past decade tend to be either thrillers or emotional tearjerkers, and almost all of them are set against a backdrop of Holocaust memories or Holocaust survivors. Sometimes the heroes need to go to Europe, where they come up against a number of obstacles related to remnants of anti-Semitism. Sometimes the entire story is framed around a young person’s response to their grandparents’ stories. Almost always, in Ashkenazic Orthodox teen literature, the Holocaust exists as a natural component of life even when the entire story has nothing to do with the Holocaust. Rarely does a book go without a single mention of the Holocaust.

5) One more category: songs and movies.
In eighth grade, we watched a film called To Live Forever. Since then, I have tried numerous times to find it, with no success. It’s basically a really mournful musical soundtrack with black and white photos of the Holocaust, including some of the most famous: the boy in the Warsaw ghetto with his arms raised, the man standing silently with his chin up as Nazis laughingly cut off his beard, children with hollow eyes and bones showing through their skin, lying on the ground. These images are in the second video below, though I don’t think they ever showed us the really graphic images of bodies.
Many many English-language songs are about aspects of the Holocaust:

(Both of these songs are frequently sung in summer youth camps and at various high school events.)

I termed the books from the 1990s early because that was when, I think, survivors first began to write down their memories. Of course, as Ulanowicz makes clear with her examples of Judy Blume and Lois Lowry, books about the Holocaust were being published before that. But not in the Orthodox world.

The early memoirs, though, focused equally on the atrocities committed by the Nazis and their collaborators and on the faith of the heroes and heroines said the cause of their survival. The stark danger of trusting Gentiles was clear – Anna Eilenberg details how her Polish neighbor, with whom they’d been very close before the war, betrayed her father to the Nazis when he was hiding from them in the attic.

The early fiction focused on rebuilding, but again emphasized the dangers of interacting with Gentiles. Fiction was more likely to focus on teenagers with teenage voices, while the real accounts may have chronicled a teenager’s experience but was always told in the voice of an adult – these were memoirs, meant to sound raw. Until I checked the publication dates now, I had always assumed these were written way earlier than the 1990s, because they focused so much on the years just after the war. Now that I know when they were written, I would guess that even after so much time, rebuilding was so important that it made sense that played such a prominent role. If the 90s hadn’t seen that boom, I’d assume that today’s Orthodox Holocaust fiction would be emphasizing rebuilding. Since the books of the 90s did it, it’s no longer necessary, as I’ll explain further below.

The later memoirs are most often written by children of survivors taking down their parents’ words. They are more about anguish and crying out to God. The danger of associating with Gentiles is less emphasized. My hypothesis is that the children (now adults) writing these stories down have so absorbed the lessons they learned from the earlier accounts that this danger is no longer an essential component to emphasize. Instead, they focus on the memories that tie Jews of faith together – the anguish that elicits cries for help directed at God.

Later fiction may have a storyline based on events of the Holocaust, but more likely is the Holocaust as a “ghost” in the background – exactly as Ulanowicz describes second generation memory, but this is the third, or more accurately fourth, generation after survivors.

The second generation absorbed the horrors of the Holocaust not as ghosts but as Inferii: real, tangible, bursting out of the water in frightening solidity. Ulanowicz’s dismissal of the term “dominate” as a description of the past’s effect on the present of children becomes relevant again in this context. Later generations, the generations who received the memories from the second generation, experience the memories as ghosts – filmy, transparent, fading against the wall and barely noticeable, but still there – finally superimposed on and merging with the present as Ulanowicz describes, but not taking it over completely.

Specifically Orthodox representations of memory always include a reference to faith. It was faith that kept the people going and allowed them to survive, according to these books. It was faith that allowed them to pick themselves up and rebuild their lives afterwards. And their faith was strengthened from having experienced these horrors and the resultant “obvious” miracles and grace of God. (This insistence is the reason secular books, especially about the Holocaust, are banned.) Children and teens reading about and identifying with the characters who experienced the horrors but persevered in their faith would picture themselves in the same situation.

But while the books Ulanowicz discusses accomplish identification with the result of children learning to be more tolerant of others, to spurn racism and anti-Semitism, Orthodox books do this with the result of ever more closed boundaries and ever more fear of outsiders. The methods and the general concept are the same; the outcome is quite different.

To close, I’ll transcribe the lyrics to two songs from my high school musicals, to illustrate the extent to which even fun high school entertainment becomes imbued with all of these memories and values. Both of these plot lines are based on the Holocaust, Peace by Piece (1997) happening to the children and grandchildren of a survivor, and Not Enough Tears (1998) during the war, in the US with the protagonist having escaped from occupied France.

Peace by Piece (1997):
My father by the Nazis was taken away,
In a concentration camp he arrived one day.
In a factory of tea kettles he would work nonstop,
Melting the handles well, attaching them to the teapots.
Father’s fingers swiftly worked under the table.
He would finish his quota early so that he would be able
To put on tefillin [black prayer boxes] just for a moment, to daven mincha [pray] too
A day without a tefila [prayer] wasn’t living for a Jew.

Not Enough Tears (1998):
So many teardrops falling, collecting through the years,
When tragedies unfolding, leaving a trail of tears.
My life was torn and shattered remembering the years,
When nothing else had mattered, leaving a trail of tears.
Hard as they have tried to rejoice when we have cried,
Yet the day will come we know, our tears will be their sorrow.
Tears of anguish will be replaced, and the tears of joy will roll down our face,
As we once again begin to reunite a tattered nation.

Method: Capshaw – “Ethnic Studies and Children’s Lit”

In “Ethnic Studies and Children’s Literature: A Conversation between Fields,” Katharine Capshaw calls attention to the deficit of children’s literature about/by people of color in relation to U.S. demographics. She reads ethnic studies onto children’s literature, and then attempts to explain why children’s literature might be particularly fruitful for furthering ethnic studies. Capshaw emphasizes the importance of producing more scholarship on ethnic writers so that it “can filter down into our classrooms to feed our students and their students” (238), helping to shape a more inclusive society.

Coincidentally, in discussing the purpose of her keynote address, Capshaw notes: “While my focus here is the United States, I hope to launch a conversation with colleagues who are experts on representations of race and racism as an interdependent dynamic in Canada, Australia, in the United Kingdom, Europe, the Caribbean, West Africa, and other contexts” (240). The order of this list, as well as the specificity with which she does (or doesn’t) name locations, serves to privilege Caucasian scholars, thereby reinscribing the very issue she wishes to draw attention to and dismantle. While Canada and the U.K. come early on the list and are named explicitly, places that would be home to larger proportions of “ethnic” writers are tacked on at the end, and referred to by much larger geographical regions (the Caribbean, West Africa) rather than individual country. Her colleagues from the U.K. are actually double-counted as she references both the U.K. and Europe, hinting at larger institutional biases.

Capshaw begins her speech by attempting to trace why race has become so difficult to talk about in U.S. scholarship, beginning with the Civil Rights Movement. After an initial influx of ethnic literature in the 1970s, production slowed and its place in academia became increasingly fraught: “With the commodification of ethnic texts, we find a deepened interest in what is authentic about writing, a turn to the sociological with the expectation of usefulness for the white reader within an institution… and representationality offering the ‘typical’ story framed within the limited narrative of a syllabus” (242). These works became reappropriated for white readership, and so were/are expected to fit into a certain narrative of American values and rhetoric. I appreciate Capshaw’s attention here to the politics of drafting syllabi, and the pitfalls of selecting works of ethnic literature that become representative of entire ethnicities in ways that are not always accurate or productive. She will bring up this issue again, explaining: “The ‘right story’ of an ethnic culture is something that we all still struggle with when constructing our syllabi, full well knowing that our pedagogy extends into the way the elementary and secondary classrooms work to produce citizens. In our own work and teaching, we need to watch for how we pose the supposed ‘truth’ of an ethnic community’s story through books” (244). Again she emphasizes the trickle-down nature of scholarship/pedagogy, and the tensions present in course-design as we strive to construct classes that satisfy multiple curriculum requirements without watering down content. Given such limited space, how do we tell the “‘right story’ of an ethnic culture,’ or of any minority community for that matter?

Capshaw goes on to note some vulnerabilities or limitations that children’s literature may have in attempting to incorporate ethnic studies, most interestingly its “attraction to the colorblind” (246) whereby works attempt to posit themselves as positioned in a “post-racial” (247) society despite all evidence to the contrary. I appreciate her reminder here that “We can’t be afraid to name racism as racism” (247), and I would extend this by saying that white educators can’t be afraid to discuss racism in general, even if they cannot identify with all of their students’ experiences. (This is a conversation we had in my own classroom when a particularly insightful student asked how I felt as a white educator, speaking to an entirely of-color class about racism).

Capshaw then goes on to examine the advantages children’s literature might have in hosting ethnic studies. However, I’m unsure how many of these advantages are really specific to children’s lit, as they often seem to categorize many, if not all, subfields of English. Her initial formulations of these three advantages are incredibly general: “We can see” (249); “We can speak” (250); “We can dream” (251). And even once she articulates these ideas more explicitly, there is not much about them that seems particular to children’s lit. For example, she mentions how the field is “aware of our situatedness and the connection of our work to actual people outside the academy” (249). But I’d argue that most every subfield is concerned with some sort of wider reaching politics that exceed the boundaries of academia. Nor is children’s literature the only field that is “fundamentally interdisciplinary” (250). And surely it’s also not the only place where new pasts and presents are dreamt. Her claim that “there is something special about children’s literature generically in terms of opening new pathways. Our writers are worldmakers in a way that other genres cannot achieve” (252) seems a bit glossing and unsubstantiated. What about Science Fiction? Or even just Fiction more generally? Isn’t every text an example of world-making? So while I agree that ethnic literature needs to become more of a priority, and that children’s literature is as good as any place to start, I somewhat disagree with her rationale as to why it might be better than anywhere else.

Method: Brown Gold. Michelle Martin

Michelle Martin provided a very detailed account of the struggles of African American’s and their ability to see a reflection of themselves in children’s picture books. From illustrators, to authors, to the children who are taught by society that being black is “ugly”. Martin gives summary after summary of both racist books that paint African American’s in a stereotypical light, and of children’s books that uplift and encourage African American readers. She also tackles her struggles of being inclusive of those writers who write positive children’s books about African Americans, who are not African American themselves.

With that struggle she speaks about the many teams that stem from interracial authors, who write groundbreaking children’s books that she would have to exclude if she ONLY wanted to incorporate authors who were African American. For instance, Nina Crews (Black) and Ann Jonas’ (White) children’s book, You Are Here (1998). Ultimately she makes the decision to be inclusive of authors of all types of races who choose to write about African Americans. Within the introduction on page xix, Martin quotes Judith Thompson as an explanation for her decision to be inclusive


Whether a writer is white or black, if he immerses himself in the

history of a period or in the life of a man, he must to some degree

“wear the shoe” to report the experience accurately… The

credentials of a writer who undertakes abook about blacks must

include a black perspective based on an appreciation of lack


Martin continues on to discuss the racist books that were published prior to the Golden age that she describes for African American’s in literature. Children’s books, such as The Story of Little Black Sambo, that gave white children an image of African Americans, to be dark caricatures, with big, bright red lips, and curly or Afro hair, which in general “demeans and ridicules” black children. All the while obliterating any positive self-image an African American child might have had about themselves.

Without a doubt the most shocking and appalling children’s books Martin mentions in Brown Gold is one the that the publishers, the McLoughlin Brothers produced called The Ten Little Niggers. One by one the human beings are eliminated from the book through acts of violence or carelessness. She quotes the book, which has several different versions, “ Ten Little Nigger Boys went out to dine;/ One choked his little self, and that left nine.” The mockery that is made of African Americans is so blatant, and disrespectful. The McLoughlin Brothers even go on to publish an updated version of the book years latter, where the “boys” now look like men, yet are still referred to as boys. Martin and I agree that this was an intentional and strategic move that black men are viewed as less than men as a sign of disrespect. Some other prejudiced books against African Americans in the late nineteenth century include, A Cook Alphabet, The Sad End of Erica’s Blackamoor, Pickaninny Namesake, to name a few.

However in the 1920’s there was a turning point in picture books. The Brownie’s Book Magazine was the first magazine for black children, of which the creators wanted African American children and young adults to educate them about the accomplishments of other African Americans that have come before them, and to see black people as not ugly individuals who have not contributed anything important to society. They also developed a seven-point objective for their publication. Number 1 is “To make colored children realize that being “colored” is a normal beautiful thing.”

Other Afro-centric books were published as the golden age evolved. Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book (1971), Jambo Means Hello: Swahili Alphabet Book (1974), were two extremely important children’s books that connected African American children with their roots in Africa through language and illustration. Later Martin discusses the importance as something that seems minor, but honestly had been a topic of importance for African Americans. How nappy hair is beautiful, is natural, and not something that black children should be ashamed of. In the book Nappy Hair, the protagonist has the most “nappiest hair in the world”, but God has determined it to be beautiful and that one nap on her hair is “the only perfect circle in nature”. How beautiful a statement this is, how uplifting and encouraging it is for little black children to read this, or have it read to them and to understand the significance that every part of them has in the eyes of God.

Martin gives a very thorough account of the good and the bad sides of history in the evolution of children’s picture books for African American children. She undoubtedly captivated my attention with the detailed accounts that are sometimes appalling, and sometimes inspiring. I commend her for writing Brown Gold as she did.

Method: Between Boys: Edward Stevenson’s Left to Themselves and the Birth of Gay Children’s Literature

Reading through Tribunella just invokes an appreciation for a good close reading. Other respondents have already noted that this article is a move to queer the canon through a historical recognition of gay literature (although I may disagree on the meaning of “subtly”). Like many of our other thinkers this semester, Tribunella also finds a need to remind us that children are not empty vessels sitting around to be filled (376). It wasn’t until I reached his discussion on blackmail that I really got engaged with the text.

Tribunella draws on Eve Sedgewick’s work, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, to frame this historical precedent for sexual blackmail. This, alongside the paraphrase of McLaren that notes “it would have been difficult for informed nineteenth-century readers, even in the United States, not to read scenes of blackmail as associated with sexual secrets, especially sodomy and homosexuality,” dramatically opens up the way in which we might read other novels of the era. His use of Sedgewick is quite remarkable, and he continues to draw on the historical work of other queer theory thinkers to push his readings. The assumption of sexual deviancy behind these plots adds a level of sexual politics on entirely assumed behavior.

Although Tribunella has introduced some really interesting concepts, I did find his readings problematic. The emphasis on openness was particularly contentious for me. On the one hand, yes promoting openness – and affirmation – is obviously good. However, the affirmation of love and openness doesn’t seem to subvert the fear of sexual behavior. The juxtaposition of the two boys to the evil (?) Jennison is then a struggle of sexual behavior. The boys get to be homosexual and “out” for the novel in part because they, as children, don’t participate in sodomy. If we are to read the coded homophobia as true, doesn’t this then problematize the desexualized (although certainly no less passionate) boys?

Even if its true that “it is precisely his insistent honesty that enables Philip to triumph over Jennison,” it is an honesty that is put at odds with a sexual threat. In promoting honesty within a culture of blackmail, Stevenson seems forced to leave unchallenged destructive modes of thinking about sex. If “Stevenson casts the character whose manners and actions are most suggestive of closetedness as the villain,” he also characterizes closeted men (and I would imagine women as well) as intentionally deceitful. These are – to me – some dangerous points to be left out in the open, and I wished that Tribunella would have taken these issues up.

All said an done, Tribunella stands a solid example of a good close reading that draws productively from the theory he has available to him.

Primary – Eric L. Tribunella, “Between Boys: Edward Stevenson’s Left to Themselves (1891) and the Birth of Gay Children’s Literature.”

Primary – Eric L. Tribunella, “Between Boys: Edward Stevenson’s Left to Themselves (1891) and the Birth of Gay Children’s Literature.”

So, the rest of you have done an incredible job with blogging this week.

In an effort to have a little fun with this, let’s put the primary text, Left to Themselves, through some distant reading. To do this, the full-text of the original work by Stevenson is pushed through Voyant-Tools, a suite of natural language processing (NLP) modules, to attempt to garner some new insights into the text. In direct opposition to close reading, distant reading, done with the help of NLP, takes a top-level high-distance approach to literature inquiry.

NOTICE: For readability and the purpose of this blog, this will be kept relatively simple.


Let’s start with some standard elements. The text contains a total of about 63,000 words. Of that large bag of words, there are only about 7,800 unique words used in the text. Knowing this, the use and frequency of certain terms can be seen as an authorial choice to signify/identify/codify a certain idea or theme of the text.

Figure 1


When working with distant reading through natural language processing, one familiar product that we can create is a word cloud. The cloud shows the most frequently occurring words in the text. The larger the word, the more it appears. Stevenson’s protagonists in Left to Themselves, Gerald (379 appearances) and Philip (396 appearances), take center stage here as along with “Mr” (462 appearances). The word “touchtone” also has a large presence in the text which let’s the distant reader understand that the telephone is a major element in the text.

Figure 1 shows a strong presence of masculine identifiers in the text: father (80), man (96), boy (100). The text linguistically maintains a masculine dominance from this sort of filtered view.
So here is where we begin to have fun. Eric Tribunella uses much of his commentary to discuss the use of “human nature” to codify homosexuality into the text. How often does nature appear in the text? It appears twice.

thinking that he was resisting nature successfully, and that his ears 1) Skip to main content
and anxious to think of nature . They met nobody yet. The 1) Skip to main content

Okay, so Tribunella does address that the word itself isn’t necessarily used but language based hints are:

“In his preface to Left to Themselves, Stevenson uses similar language to hint at the possibility of boy readers who may want to read books depicting same- sex desire: “But there is always a large element of the young reading public to whom character in fiction, and a definite idea of human nature through fiction, and the impression of downright personality through fiction, are the main interests—perhaps unconsciously—and work a charm and influence good or bad in a very high degree” (n. pag.). That some children read literature for traces of a particular nature hints at the possibility of those who may be looking for characters who experience same-sex desire” (Tribunella).

And right when we begin to question the validity of this exploration, we are struck with this little gem. In searching the term “love” in order to explore the statement that Stevenson switches from friendship language to language of love (379), we are able to find this:

“Butif one yields to the temptation to be among the prophets, and closes his eyes, there  come, chiefly > pleasant thoughts of how good are  friendship and love and loyal service between man and man in this rugged world of ours ; and  how probable it is that such things here have  not their ending, since they have not their perfecting here, perfect as friendship and the service sometimes seem” (Stevenson).

At this point, it is obvious that applying NLP to texts such as these in comparison to secondary works like the one produced by Tribunella, we can gleam new perspectives in our research.

I implore all of you to take a moment to poke around in the above data link and see what you can find out about Left to Themselves from a distant perspective.

Over the (Homo, Of Course) Rainbow: Method

Often hailed as the first of its kind — a book-length treatment of queerness in children’s and YA literature (that will both put the song in your head and blow your mind about the things you never realized were queer… but are… all for the [not] low cost of $45.99!) — Kidd and Abate’s Over the Rainbow offers an interdisciplinary framework for queerness in kid and YA lit. However, the book still retains a damaging structure that operates on a distinctly non-queer platform, and I will spend much of the post discussing why/how that is.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been reading Over the Rainbow in a quite piecemeal fashion: I first took it out a few summers ago for the sheer pleasure of Tosenberger’s chapter on Harry Potter slash fanfic, and was immediately seduced by the piece on Nancy Drew and, of course, Tribunella’s piece on A Separate Piece (because when has the intersection of queerness and trauma not seduced me?).

That experience, for me, is part of the excellence of this book overall: it’s like a candy shop wrapped up in book binding, there for when you need an article on anything (unless you want a sustained treatment on race, for example, which seems to be a common theme across the cannon).

That expansiveness is, however, also a bit of weakness for me: divided almost awkwardly into “Queering the Cannon” (Part the First), “After Stonewall” (Part the Second), and “Queer Readers and Writers” (Part the Third). Though I won’t go into my gripes about using Stonewall as a violently inaccurate buzzword for “when [white cis] gay history began”, I want to call attention to both the strengths and potential weaknesses of organizing the book into these particular sections.

I absolutely love the idea of the first section: taking purportedly cishet, cannon texts like Harriet the Spy, Little Women, and The Wizard of Oz — which often have large, explicitly queer followings — and excavating them for their queerness is a brilliant way to start this groundbreaking collection. It lets the authors of these chapters proclaim, ‘we do not need to examine books where two women (for example) are making out in order to find queerness.’ This is a phenomenal move, and one that I am perpetually pleased to see right up front in Over the Rainbow.

However, I am constantly perplexed and troubled by the third and last section, as I am constantly perplexed and troubled by the last section of many anthologies (and syllabi, for that matter). These last sections — like this one, which covers not only fan fiction but computer games, and trans issues — are often reserved for more ‘risque’ items, more unconventional material, things that the authors/editors may in fact value quite highly but someone along the way — the anthology editors, the publisher’s editors, etc. — decides that in order to establish credibility for the text, these works must ‘go last’, ‘go speculative.’ A tendency both in academic anthologies and in many, many, many (once more for emphasis) MANY course syllabi — which, for example, include race and/or queer stuff and/or dis/ability stuff last, as almost an afterthought — Over the Rainbow succumbs to this temptation to lump a bunch of ‘suspect’ material in under the vague section heading of “Queer Readers and Writers” (have they not been discussing us the entire time?).

I am most disturbed by this, not only because of the implication that studying fan fiction and computer games is less ‘legitimate’ than studying straight-up (or not!) Harriet the Spy, but because two of the articles here foreground issues of transness. Is transness, then, also ‘suspect’ and somehow less legitimate, like fan fiction and computer games? I’m very nervous about this, though I am not finger pointing because I do not know at what point in the process these essays were relegated to the “last section” which seems, as I said, to be perpetually reserved for things the anthology largely doesn’t want to deal with upfront, like… race! Again, where is that here? It’s not ‘even’ foregrounded in the “last section” section, which is upsetting, to say the least.

Back to the trans stuff for one second: one of these two articles foregrounding trans issues, Battis’s on “Trans Magic” uses transgender-ness, it seems, as more of a metaphor for unlocking gender binaries than on people’s lived experiences of being trans. Much like the over-use of the term ‘queer’ to mean anything that transgresses… anything…. this usage threatens not only to dilute the power of the term, but to metaphorize experiences that are, in actuality, quite immediately real and in need of their own non-metaphorized analyses.

So, my overall take on Over the Rainbow: I’ve been having a love affair with this book and individual articles in it for years, but taking it as a whole? Where is race? Why is transness relegated “to the back” with other “suspect” materials like fan fic and computer games? Shouldn’t a book on queerness be a little bit more… well… queer in its structure??

Barbie’s Queer Accessories – Method

Since Matteus already already hit many high points of the book, I am going to try to focus on the intersections between the three pieces we read–including the review essay, which it looks like no one else is covering.

First, I did a lot of work on lesbian writers in the nineteenth century, particularly the poet and novelist, Amy Levy, for my undergraduate thesis, so I am familiar with the contexts of homosexuality and homosociality within which Eric Tribunella attempts to position Left to Themselves, but am not at all familiar with queer literature for children. Tribunella’s essay was therefore fascinating to me! The review essay “Childlike: Queer Theory and Its Children” was also great, because it gave me some ideas for sources I might want to put on my annotated bib. Even though my annotated bib isn’t really about queerness right now, both No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive and Curiouser: On the Queerness of Children sound incredibly helpful for my project, and possibly even illustrative of a subtext or another implication to the project I hadn’t fully acknowledged. I describe my project (on days when I am feeling coherent) as aiming to revise Deborah Nord’s idea of the woman writer as flâneuse, whose writing constituted a “struggle to escape the status of spectacle and become a spectator” (Nord 12). I see Nord’s approach, which is based on close readings of individual autonomously-authored mostly canonical novels, as bound to a logic that sees women’s agency as dependent on their ability to commandeer male privilege—both the privilege that came from writing in the novel form and the privilege that came from existing outside of the urban environment as a masculine spectator. My project would ask what happens when we examine periodicals as a site for working out alternative models of female, urban identity. The archive I want to use for this project is that of girls’ periodicals—particularly more radical, and therefore perhaps shorter-running, girls’ periodicals.

Because of this, I appreciated the focus of both Tribunella’s analysis and that of some of the books reviewed in Michael Cobb’s essay on the adolescent boy as a culturally overdetermined site of meaning. Though it may seem a small part of his overall argument, Tribunella’s assertion that “as part boy and part man, Philip is able to claim or embody simultaneously the familiar boyhood privilege of same-sex romantic friendship and the emergent figure of the adult homosexual” (385) illuminates the secret of this novel’s ability to walk the fine line between homosexuality and homosociality. Because Philip embodies both types simultaneously, he acts similarly to the kind of optical illusion that, when looked at in one way, looks like a decorative table, and when looked at in another way, looks like a face in profile. The fact that the novel can be perceived as a gay novel by the boys for whom it was intended and as a novel about traditional homosociality by the men buying it for their male children—depends on the adolescent, and therefore, liminal status of its protagonist. This is interesting to me because the reason I turned to girls’ periodicals at all was because the figure of the girl was under a lot of political and ideological pressure in the nineteenth century (and today). I thought if one could see models of femininity being developed overtly and self-consciously, it might be in periodicals for girls, where this pressure often came directly to the surface in the form of didactic stories and articles.

Cobb’s review essay, “Childlike: Queer Theory and Its Children,” also discusses several books which chronicle the ways in which adults still use the rhetorical figure of “the child” for political and ideological purposes. While in No Future, childhood is characterized as a political tool, Kathryn Bond Stockton’s essay in Curiouser documents how we can conceive of alternative models of “the child,” including those of “sideways growth” (127). I am interested in the idea of “sideways growth” brought forward in Stockton’s essay, and the idea of having “no future” as a group as, in some sense liberatory, because many of the examples of girls’ periodicals I have given (and many of the examples I know of) are very much focused on girls’ futures (whom they will marry, how or whether they will be educated, etc.). I would be interested to see whether or not stories of sideways growth could provide me with a model for looking at female urban identity as it manifested in periodicals, and if so, whether homosexuality or romantic friendship might have played a key role in the formation of such identity. Though the kind of homosociality Tribunella discusses was also a cardinal aspect of girls’ lives (as Sharon Marcus points out in her great book, Between Women) when such bonds were of primary significance to the women involved and maintained throughout life in romantic friendships or informal marriages, women were considered to have done something out of the ordinary (though certainly not as stigmatized as male homosexuality until the end of the century). Therefore, it seems like queer stories or stories with queer subtexts, because they were often understood as stories about the continuation of something (the bonds of romantic friendship or homosexual love) might provide one (or more) models of femininity that could serve as alternatives to that of the flanêuse. Such a model of identity would also be particularly suited to a medium like the periodical in which regardless of the ends of individual stories, growth is always to some extent sideways, additive, always contingent upon the next installment, but also on the ways in which the installment fits in a predictable, but still novel way within each issue, each whole (a cognate in formal terms to the way a marriage or long-term friendship might be narrated, as opposed to a story that ends with “happily ever after”).

Finally, this brings me to Barbie’s Queer Accessories, the book on which I was supposed to have blogged. Carrie first suggested that I read this book about a year ago, when I was working on an essay about the unorthodox way in which Rosamond Vincy (a character from George Eliot’s Middlemarch) interacts with the Keepsake, a beautiful book designed to win women’s hands in marriage, but that, in her hands, was transformed into a tool for manipulating the men in question. Therefore, what I expected was lots of stories where girls did interesting things with Barbie. This is, of course, what I got, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! I love seeing scholars talk about actual children (period!), and I also love seeing scholars discuss instances when actual children resist the scripts they are given. I guess I would have liked to see a bit more methodological rigor, though. I can’t help thinking as I write this post of Racial Innocence, and how much Bernstein’s concept of scriptive things would have given structure to Rand’s argument and a vocabulary with which to discuss the kinds of resistance she was discussing, though I appreciate the difficulties of what she is trying to do. In the words of her own disclaimer of sorts, deciding what constitutes resistance, and for what purposes one would want to classify it as such, is a major challenge (93). One thing I really appreciated about Barbie’s Queer Accessories was the method by which Rand classified her stories, using motifs she saw often enough to believe them themes of the way girls interact with Barbie (102). Just as Mattel’s proliferation of a line of Barbie items creates certain expectations and patterns of play in children (124), Rand’s classification system creates a sort of world of Barbie here, showing us the kind of stories people tell about Barbie. This method works because she herself is the first to say that we should not take her classification system in this way, highlighting in particular, the relative absence of femme stories from her archive (110). There is a certain humility about the way in which classifies the stories using her own entirely fabricated categories. It functions again, almost as a disclaimer, allowing her to acknowledge that from the very beginning, her categories of analysis were entirely dependent on the stories she found, and on her own perspective, through which they were all filtered (allowing her also to highlight aspects of her own identity that were not mirrored in the stories she found). Her self-created categories also put emphasis, as she says on the narratives people told, which again, leads her to make justifiable claims. As opposed to saying that children’s resistance actually means anything, she lends her powers to documenting the different ways that adult women understand their relation to Barbie. My big, big question after reading this chapter, though, is what was her methodology? I could probably read the first chapter or introduction to discover this, but right now, I am just going to think in hypotheticals and use the evidence I have to extrapolate if possible. Rand says at one point, that she observed children playing with Barbies in addition to asking adult women about their memories of Barbies. Certain evidence suggests that her sample was constructed at least partially from people she knows, which suggests it might hold an uncharacteristically high percentage of lesbians and politically left-leaning people, which might lead me to question certain of her assertions—particularly, the idea that most, if not all, Barbie narratives are merely “straight acting” (139). Given the sample she provides in this chapter, I certainly agree with her; I just wonder if her sample was large enough or random enough to say this with any accuracy. Looking forward to discussing the texts at greater length in class!