Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Children's books are how culture is made? Discuss

The joy of reading together

The title of this blog came from a quote used in a recent article, which was actually discussing an exhibition in New York. But it started me thinking about the idea. Culture, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society. On this basis are children's books how culture is made? I have to be honest I have no answers just thoughts as I mull this idea over.

Many of the Children's Literature researchers look at children's books and suggest what they mean. For example you can find information on how Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows (1908) is a commentary on the social mores of the time, a response to the society of the early 20th Century and Grahame's dislike of women. The weasels and stoats were believed to be representative of the emerging working class. The question for me, as a writer, is did Grahame really actually plan all that? More likely it has been decided by academics at a later date when the Fin de Si√®cle and all that is happening within society at that time were considered alongside the book.

I do think that we cannot but help when writing to reflect the current mores and values of our contemporary society but I think it is an unconscious thing. We create that culture by accident not by design. That doesn't mean we won't necessarily be rebellious with what what create. When writing, as with reading, you bring into play your cultural moment. For example, how you grew up, your interests including political and your experiences. As a brief sample of what I mean, a friend read something I wrote ages ago and commented upon the religious themes that were running throughout. This was a total surprise I had not consciously put in anything religious, or so I thought, but when I looked again I could see what she meant. She was a very religious person and I think that that is perhaps why she saw these motifs. She wanted to see them as they appealed to her experiences.

This brings me on to the reader. As I mentioned above the reader doesn't come to any text in innocence, even as a child, they bring all their ow experiences (however brief) with them and it is on that basis that they will interpret the story. (Andrew Melrose expands on this idea in his book) Leaving the text with more knowledge and increased experiences. But as a child reader do they look for cultural mores and values - no, they are looking for a great story that they give believe in and vicariously experience.

In a lecture on Monday we were considering Wolfgang Iser and readers. We were discussing when, and if, we consider our readers when we wrote. A student came up with an intriguing idea - they write for themselves and edit for their audience. Is this something we all do I wonder?

By the way the little chap in the photo is just a little bit bigger but loves his books just as much.

This piece is by Salif Keita and entitled Folon. I used it as part of an exercise with my first year students and it inspired some wonderful pieces of writing so I thought I would share in case you needed a bit of inspiration.



Then I hope you enjoy this (with thanks to Cathy Cassidy for introducing me to it) a bit of Kacey Musgraves as we all sit on our Merry Go Round.

2 comments:

  1. Fascinating post, Ness. I completely agree with the point that each reader brings themselves to the story; that every reader will have their own interpretation of the author's vision. As for whether we write with a hidden agenda? I think if you write from the heart, then you must put your own thoughts and views onto the page, however unintentional. But we have to remember that a story is a story and that is what must come first.

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    1. Glad you liked it Sue and yes I think you are right we can't but help it.

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