Didactic Implications of Children's Literature

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English, Children’s Literary Essay.
In the debate regarding the didactic implications of Children’s literature and the worry it has caused adults, one must link the popularity and success of subversive literature to the argument. Alison Laurie, in her book ‘Don’t tell the grown ups’ says that the greatest works of juvenile literature are subversive and disregard the ideas and emotions generally approved or recognised at the time they were conceived. The typical subversive text blurs the lines of didacticism and entertainment, despite this; the message in even the most subversive of texts is often ethical in some way. The 2010 film ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ demonstrates the both subversion and moralistic teachings, the film doesn’t characterise itself into a specific genre, detaching it as stand-alone film. Spike Jonze uses unconventional film techniques to establish the protagonist and to communicate the moral of the film through unconventional means.

It is often argued that children’s texts are written and designed to communicate directives, or moral lessons. Texts should communicate positive instructions, which guide the child through morally hard choices in life. This being the case, adults have traditionally worried about the didactic implications of children’s literature and its capacity to send subversive messages to children. One would then assume that the best selling children’s books contain what parents would consider to be the ‘best’ didactic implications for their child. However, more successful children’s literature, or certainly the most popular, is subversive of contemporary adult and societal expectations for children. The most enduring texts will often challenge authority and ‘make fun’ of generally accepted views on society or conventions. Alison Lurie argues that successful children’s literature will celebrate that which adults want to eliminate from their children’s behaviour, such as:

"daydreaming, disobedience, answering back, running away from home, and concealing one's private thoughts and feelings from unsympathetic grown-ups”. (Alison Laurie, Don’t Tell The Grown Ups, pg 72)

In subversive children’s literature, the line is blurred between instruction and entertainment. Most of these subversive texts are written purely for children’s entertainment and hold no didactic implications, whereas others will entertain while they teach with the moral of the story still quite clear. Typically in subversive children’s texts, the child protagonist will create his own world. It is plain for the child to see that the adult world is complicated and far from perfect, so these ‘imaginary-worlds’ help them make sense of the world around them. This can be demonstrated in the film ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ when Max travels to his own imaginary world. The difference is the children are often in control and adults have little or no authority. They subvert the adult world by making impossible things possible, or defying established laws and facts. These are the implications that worry adults; they worry that in these made up worlds, fact becomes fiction, and fiction fact where the parent does not want their child to get the two mixed up in the real world. However, as Maria Tater writes, in her book ‘Off with their heads!: fairy tales and the culture of childhood’, subversive texts characteristically imply that what matters in the world is art, imagination and truth. In what we call the real world, on the other hand, importance and social value is often placed most highly on money, power and fame. So then, even the most subversive children’s texts are didactic to some extent. (The Subversive Children’s Literature Homepage, http://students.english.ilstu.edu/jmfrase/finalproject/finalprojecthome.html)

The 2010 Film ‘Where The Wild Things Are’, by Spike Jonze, can be seen as neither fully didactic, nor entirely subversive. The text seems to have its own...
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