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Catching Them Young

by Bob Dixon

 

Recommended Booklist

 

Vol. 1. Sex, Race and Class in Children's Fiction

Acknowledgements, Notes, Preface, Bibliography

 

1 Sexism: Birds in Gilded Cages

2. Class: Snakes and Ladders

3. Racism: All Things White and Beautiful

 

Some Quotations from Catching Them Young vol.1

Vol.2. - Political Ideas in Children's Fiction

 

Acknowledgements, Note, Preface, Bibiography

 

1 Comics: More EEK! than TEE-HEE

2 Enid Blyton and Her Sunny Stories

3 Empire: Fiction Follows the Flag

4The Supernatural: Religion, Magic and Mystification

NB - This website is an ongoing work - due to the limitations of OCR & editing  there may be errors in the text that are not in the book. But since both volumes of 'Catching them Young' are out of print, this is the next best thing - though you might be able to obtain a second hand copy.

 

Preliminary pages - Volume  1

Acknowledgements Vol 1

I'm very grateful to the following friends and helpers who contributed in so many ways to this book : Joan Bailey, Leila Berg, John Burlinson, Rosemary Stones and Andrew Mann of the Children's Rights Workshop, Judy and Mike Cooper, Anne and Dick Dear, Annie and Dan Garrett, Elizabeth Goodacre, Caryl Gregory, Claude and Roger Hardwick, Bridget Harris, Dorothy Kuya, Kate and Colin Mortimer and Nina and Mike Kidron, Anne Benewick and my helpers at Pluto.

I have to record my acknowledgements to the following for permission to reproduce copyright material : the literary estate of Helen Bannerman and Chatto and Windus for the illustrations from The Story of Little Black Sambo; Macmillan London and Basingstoke for the illustrations by Joan Beales from Once Upon a Time by Beryl Gilroy; the Schools Council for the illustrations from `my mum', part of Breakthrough to Literacy, the work of the Council's Initial Literacy Project, part of the Linguistics and English Teaching Programme (Longman, 1970); Charles Keeping and Oxford University Press for the illustration from Railway Passage and Kaye and Ward and the Rev W.Awdry for the illustration from Oliver, the Western Engine.

 

I'd like to thank the editor and editorial board of Hard Cheese in which material from this book first appeared as an article.

NOTES Vol 1

I couldn't use the material detailed below as the publishers or copyright holders named wished to impose conditions on what I said about it : the pictures on page 41 of both the old and new versions of Ladybird Book no. 1a, Play With Us; those on pages 42 and 4.3 of Here Comes Noddy Again by Enid Blyton (Purnell Books); that on page 129 of The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting (Jonathan Cape); and further passages from The Little Black Doll by Enid Blyton (Darrell Waters Limited). These publishers and agencies seek to restrict open debate on matters of public concern. I have, however, said what I think about the work in question and, as far as I'm concerned, the pictures would merely have supported my argument. Nevertheless, it's difficult to see why these firms have so little faith in work for which they bear responsibility and why they couldn't allow the illustrations, for instance, to speak for themselves. In nearly all cases, I was asked to send copies of what I would be saying about the material concerned or at least to explain my purpose in detail. One letter stated, `we are rather sensitive about Noddy's publication outside our books, since he has in the past on a few occasions been the subject of somewhat irreverent exposure V Here I had to leave the matter as I'm unable to be reverent towards Noddy. At least, it can be said that this is fairly explicit and preferable to a series of evasive replies, such as I had from Darrell Waters Limited which, in the end, amounted to the same thing.

Preface vol. 1

This book deals with fiction written for children and is meant to be of use to all those interested in this important matter. I've examined the ideas, attitudes and opinions which authors convey to children through novels and stories - what writers say to children, in fact - and I've analysed the ways in which this is done.

It wasn't necessary, for my purposes, to deal with poetry as it only differs in form, not in values, from prose. (This doesn't mean that I underestimate the power poetry can have.) Nor have I dealt with folk and fairy tales, partly for the same reason but also because it would have required another book.

Over the past few years, the number of children's books available has increased enormously but there's been little in the way of help for anybody trying to deal with the situation. But what help do people need? A booklist alone is of little use. It's just someone else's idea of worthwhile books. I've included a booklist here but those reading this book will know the principles behind the choice of titles on the list. Furthermore, and this is the important thing, readers will be able to make informed choices themselves. They'll know what to look for.

I have other aims, as well, in this book. Over recent years, I've become more and more concerned about how writers influence children. Much of the material in children's books is anti-social, if not anti-human and is more likely to stunt and warp young people than help them grow. So what this book does more than anything is start with a few questions : what are the attitudes, values and opinions found in the most popular fiction young people read? how will these contribute to the ideas and beliefs children form during the most impressionable years of their lives? what picture of the world is presented to children through literature?

I was concerned, too, about the state of criticism of children's fiction. Although there's been a welcome improvement in recent years, much of it is still at the spiffing-good-yarn-fortwelve-year-olds level. Shallow responses of this kind won't do any longer.

This book is the first of a two-part work. It can be seen as a wide survey of children's fiction from three points of view : sex, class and race. These three elements come into most fiction and I think they are undeniably the most fundamental aspects of children's fiction. Of course, they overlap, the more so, perhaps, haps, because they are all aspects of the idea of hierarchy - the idea that seems to suggest that all that exists, including people, can be arranged in order from top to bottom, from highest to lowest. It's often seemed to me, during my work on this book, that practically all the literature I've been studying has been about hierarchy in one form or another. The approach in this part, therefore, is synthetic - I've drawn together material from wherever I thought it necessary. In part two (Political Ideas in Children's Fiction), my approach is analytical - that is, I've looked at particular traditions as well as, in one chapter, the comic form and, in another chapter, a particular writer, in order to show how certain opinions and ideas are linked together.

I've tried to keep the study well up to the present day and have, for the most part, dealt with books that are both available and popular. However, in the last two chapters of Political Ideas I felt it necessary to sketch in the historical background, firstly in order to allow the reader to form a proper understanding of the present and secondly to show how the basic attitudes and values in children's fiction have remained constant over the years in spite of variations and modifications.

Anyone interested in how ideas - political ideas in the broadest and most important sense - are fostered and grow up in a society cannot afford to neglect what children read. Here and there, I've indicated specific evidence of the influence of literature on children but, on the whole, I've left this job to the sociologist. This is a literary study. I hope, however, that sociologists will, in future, pay more attention to this subject if only because there are people who, apparently, feel a desperate need to believe that nothing children read has any effect on them at all. It seems to me much more reasonable to believe that everything that happens to us, including literature, has some kind of effect which will vary with the individual, of course. This is the point where the psychologist could help. Such a person might also help us to understand more about racism and fascism as mental diseases.

My overall aim has been to increase the awareness of what happens in children's fiction and to try to ensure that a lot of it doesn't happen any more. I'll be very glad if I've succeeded.

November 1976

Select Bibliography Vol. 1

This is a list of the books I found most useful as providing background information for my study. The place of publication is London unless otherwise stated.

General

F.J.Harvey Darton, Children's Books in England, Cambridge University Press 1958.

Percy Muir, English Children's Books1600-1900, Batsford 1954

Justin Wintle and Emma Fisher, The Pied Pipers, Paddington Press 1974.

 

1. Sexism: Birds in Gilded Cages

Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, Harmondsworth Penguin 1972.

Elena Gianini Belotti, Little Girls, Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative 1975 Eva Figes, Patriarchal Attitudes, Panther 1972.

Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex, Paladin 1972.

Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch, Paladin I97I.

E.E.Maccoby and C.N.Jacklin, The Psychology of Sex

Differences, Oxford University Press 1975

Kate Millett, Sexual Politics, Sphere Books i972.

Sheila Rowbotham, Hidden From History, Pluto Press 1973

Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women,

Walter Scott, undated [1892?].

 

2. Class : Snakes and Ladders

Paulo Freire, Cultural Action f or Freedom, Harmondsworth :

Penguin 1972.

Harold Rosen, Language and Class, Bristol : Falling Wall

Press 1972.

Geoffrey Trease, A Whiff of Burnt Boats, Macmillan 1971,

3. Racism : All Things White and Beautiful

Dorothy M.Broderick, Image o f the Black in Children's Fiction, New York : Bowker 1973.

Julius Lester, To Be a Slave, Longman Young 1970.

David Milner, Children and Race, Harmondsworth : Penguin

1975.

Chris Searle, The Forsaken Lover, Harmondsworth : Penguin I973


Preliminary pages - Volume 2

Acknowledgements vol. 2

I'm very grateful to the following friends and helpers who contributed in so many ways to this book : Joan Bailey, Leila Berg, John Burlinson, Rosemary Stones and Andrew Mann of the Children's Rights Workshop, Judy and Mike Cooper, Anne and Dick Dear, Annie and Dan Garrett, Elizabeth Goodacre, Caryl Gregory, Claude and Roger Hardwick, Bridget Harris, Dorothy Kuya, Kate and Colin Mortimer and Nina and Mike Kidron, Anne Benewick and my helpers at Pluto.

I have to record my acknowledgements to the following for permission to reproduce copyright material: V.S.Reid, the Longman Group and the Ministry of Education, Jamaica for the illustration from Sixty-Five; the Bodley Head for the illustration from The Last Battle by C.S.Lewis; IPC Magazines Limited for the illustrations from Bonnie, Whizzer and Chips, Shiver and Shake, June and School Friend and Valiant; Brockhampton Press Limited (now Hodder and Stoughton) for the illustration and extract from Five Fall into Adventure by Enid Blyton; and Leila Berg and Hamish Hamilton for the extract from The Hidden Road.

I'd like to thank the editors and editorial boards of the following magazines in which material from this book first appeared as articles : Labour Monthly, Forum and Children's Literature in Education

Note vol 2

I couldn't use the material detailed below as the publisher named wished to impose conditions on what I said about it : the ninth picture of the strip `Jo and Co' from Romeo (I I May i974), the sixth picture of `Daisy Dean - little Beauty Queen' from Debbie (12 May I973) and the third picture of `The McTickles' from The Beano (13 May I972) all published by D.C.Thomson. This publisher seeks to restrict open debate on matters of public concern. I have, however, said what I think about the work in question and, as far as I'm concerned, the pictures would merely have supported my argument. Nevertheless, it's difficult to see why this firm has so little faith in work for which it bears responsibility and why it couldn't allow the illustrations, for instance, to speak for themselves. D.C.Thomson were prepared to grant permission to reproduce their pictures only `on the understanding that these are not used in any derogatory way'.

Preface Vol 2

This book deals with fiction written for children and is meant to be of use to all those interested in this important matter. I've examined the ideas, attitudes and opinions which authors convey to children through novels and stories - what writers say to children, in fact - and I've analysed the ways in which this is done.

 

It wasn't necessary, for my purposes, to deal with poetry as it only differs in form, not in values, from prose. (This doesn't mean that I underestimate the power poetry can have.) Nor have I dealt with folk and fairy tales, partly for the same reason but also because it would have required another book.

 

Over the past few years, the number of children's books available has increased enormously but there's been little in the way of help for anybody trying to deal with the situation. But what books. I've included a booklist here but those reading this book will know the principles behind the choice of titles on the list. Furthermore, and this is the important thing, readers will be able to make informed choices themselves. They'll know what to look for.

 

I have other aims, as well, in this book. Over recent years, I've become more and more concerned about how writers influence children. Much of the material in children's books is anti-social, if not anti-human and is more likely to stunt and warp young people than help them grow. So what this book does more than anything is start with a few questions : what are the attitudes, values and opinions found in the most popular fiction young people read? how will these contribute to the ideas and beliefs children form during the most impressionable years of their lives? what picture of the world is presented to children through literature?

 

I was concerned, too, about the state of criticism of children's fiction. Although there's been a welcome improvement in recent years, much of it is still at the spiffing-good-yarn-for-twelve- year-olds level. Shallow responses of this kind won't do any longer.

 

This book is the second volume of a two-part work. The first part, called Sex, Race and Class in Children's Fiction, surveys three elements which come into most fiction and these elements are,  I think, undeniably the most fundamental aspects of children's fiction. Of course, they overlap,  the more so, perhaps, because they are all aspects of the idea of hierarchy - the idea that seems to suggest that all that exists, including people, can be arranged in order from top to bottom, from highest to lowest. It's often seemed to me, during my work on this book, that practically all the literature I've been studying has been about hierarchy in one form or another. The approach in Sex, Race and Class, therefore, is synthetic - I've drawn together material from wherever I thought it necessary. In this part, my approach is analytical - that is, I've looked at

particular traditions as well as, in one chapter, the comic form and, in another chapter, a particular writer, in order to show how certain opinions and ideas are linked together.

 

I've tried to keep both parts of the study well up to the present day and have, for the most part, dealt with books that are both available and popular. However, in the last two chapters of this volume I felt it necessary to sketch in the historical background, firstly in order to allow the reader to form a proper understanding of the present and secondly to show how the basic attitudes and values in children's fiction have remained constant over the years in spite of variations and modifications.

 

Anyone interested in how ideas - political ideas in the broadest and most important sense - are fostered and grow up in a society cannot afford to neglect what children read. Here and there, I've indicated specific evidence of the influence of literature on children but, on the whole, I've left this job to the sociologist. This is a literary study. I hope, however, that sociologists will, in future, pay more attention to this subject if only because there are people who, apparently, feel a desperate need to believe that nothing children read has any effect on them at all. It seems to me much more reasonable to believe that everything that happens to us, including literature, has some kind of effect which will vary with the individual, of course. This is the point where the psychologist could help. Such a person might also help us to understand more about racism and fascism

as mental diseases and could possibly cast some light on compulsive writers who, in their work, play out their own fantasies. I'm thinking of writers such as Enid Blyton and Edgar Wallace.

 

My overall aim has been to increase the awareness of what happens in children's fiction and to try to ensure that a lot of it doesn't happen any more. I'll be very glad if I've succeeded.

 

November,1976

Select Bibliography Vol. 2

This is a list of the books I found most useful as providing background information for my study. The place of publication is London unless otherwise stated.

General

F.J.Harvey Darton, Children's Books in England, Cambridge University Press 1958.

Percy Muir, English Children's Books 1600-1900, Batsford I954

Justin Wintle and Emma Fisher, The Pied Pipers, Paddington Press  1974,

.

1, Comics : More EEK ! than TEE-HEE

Les Daniels, Comix: a History of Comic Books in America, Wildwood House 1973

Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart, How to Read Donald Duck, New York : International General 1975. Gillian Freeman, The Undergrowth of Literature, Panther 1969.Gershon Legman, Love and Death, New York : Breaking Point 1949.

George Orwell, `Boys' Weeklies' in Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (eds), The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, vol. 1, Secker and Warburg 1968. Frederic Wertham, Seduction of the Innocent, Museum Press 1955

2. Enid Blyton and her Sunny Stories

Enid Blyton, foreword to A Complete List of Books: Enid Blyton, Edinburgh : John Menzies undated (1950?).

Enid Blyton, The Story of my Life, Pitkins undated (t952?). Barbara Stoney, Enid Blyton, Hodder and Stoughton 1974.

 

3. Empire : Fiction Follows the Flag

Valerie E.Chancellor, History f or their Masters, Bath : Adams and Dart 1970.

Morton Cohen, Rudyard Kipling to Rider Haggard, Cranbury (New Jersey) : Associated University Presses 1965. Patrick Howarth, Play up and Play the Game, Eyre Methuen I973

Rudyard Kipling, Something of Myself, Macmillan 1937. Margaret Lane, Edgar Wallace, Heinemann undated (r938?). Edgar Wallace, People, Hodder and Stoughton 1926.

 

4. The Supernatural : Religion, Magic and Mystification R.D.Altick, The English Common Reader, Chicago : University of Chicago Press 1957 W.K.Lowther Clarke, A History of the SPCK, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge 1959.

John Vine Hall, The Sinner's Friend, H.R.Allenson undated ( 1911?).

Gordon Hewitt, Let the People Read, United Society for Christian Literature 1949.

Jack Lindsay, John Bunyan, Methuen r937. R.H.Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Harmondsworth : Penguin 1938.

E.P.Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, Harmondsworth : Penguin 1968

 

 


 

Some Quotations from Catching Them Young vol.1

In fiction for the very early years, we saw the cage being built. More and more now, women will take the task upon themselves, in fiction as in life. Most grow up believing that the role society has set out for them is a 'natural' one, innate and inborn. This process, by which the oppressed takes on - internalises - the attitudes of the oppressor, is a well-known one and we'll see it working strongly when we come to consider class and race. In the rest of this chapter, we'll be looking more closely at the construction of the cage. p6

I can never see much in the argument which `makes allowance' for the period when a book was written. If books are read now - and these are certainly very widely read indeed - then surely we have to apply contemporary standards in evaluating them. It would, in any case, be difficult to make any allowances for the kind of indoctrination examined here. There are too many sly digs at feminism, scattered throughout the books, for us to excuse Alcott of unawareness. She knew what she was doing. p10

If we give the point to the 'nature'-lovers - it's human nature, they'll say - would we not have to counteract this drive in the interests of civilisation? I've noted that even the sex drive can be conditioned to take many forms. In fact, the consequence of accepting that men are, by nature, more aggressive must surely be that men should be kept from positions of power. p35

Simone de Beauvoir's book, The Second Sex was first published in 1949 and therefore stands at the beginning of the modern stage of the feminist movement. Towards the beginning of this remarkable work, de Beauvoir quotes Aristotle: `The female is female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities' and St Thomas: `woman is a failed man'. (That certainly simplifies things - women are just sexual deviants.) Here, however, we have pronouncements from the twin pillars of our academic culture - the classical and the Christian. Nor were these writers isolated, but, because of their enormous influence, they were extremely important in establishing a long tradition which has still to be overturned. p35

Nature vs.Nurture

....usually thought of as a powerful instinct, can, in response to social factors, be inhibited or can take many varied forms, heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality being the three main categories. Now, it's necessary to consider what biological evidence there is for a differentiation between sex roles. In their recently-published book, The Psychology o f Sex Differences, Eleanor Maccoby and Carol Jacklin, with admirable thoroughness, have taken into account over 1,400 research studies published since 1965 in their particular field. Most of the experimental evidence can be explained sociologically, as the authors, and no doubt in many cases, the researchers, realise. When it's all sifted, we're left with two findings that have biological links. One is, `There is evidence of a recessive sex-linked gene that contributes an element to high spatial ability.' This isn't saying much, but apparently, some evidence has shown that some human males have a better sense of space, direction and location. Even then, the other elements affecting this ability are not linked to sex. The statement that `Where women are subjugated, their visual-spatial skills are poor relative to those of men' is very revealing and it's followed by, `Where both sexes are allowed independence early in life, both sexes have good visual-spatial skills.' The `recessive sex-linked gene' is scarcely making its presence felt. More important, when we think of sex roles in literature, is the statement, `The evidence is strong that males are the more aggressive sex ... We have argued that the male is, for biological reasons, in a greater state of readiness to learn and display aggressive behaviour, basing the argument in part on studies of the relationship between sex hormones and aggression.' This is based on 94 experiments, 5 of which showed greater female aggression, 52 of which showed greater male aggression, and 37 of which showed no difference between the sexes. But practically all of this information comes from experiments with white, middle-class, United States citizens, the lower age limit of the subjects was two (and a terrible lot of things are learnt by that age), and, lastly, most of the research to do with hormones was carried out on non-human animals.p34

There'll be some who'll argue that we've been looking at a `natural' state of affairs in fiction - that the books are realistic in that they portray girls, and women, as they are. Several questions arise from this. Who (apart from Shakespeare) said that art should reflect life? Has literature no greater function than to reflect reality (whatever that is) or, can it do more than entertain, than pass the time? Personally, if I had such a poor opinion of literature, I wouldn't waste my time on it. No, I think that literature can help to make people more aware of the way society works. Of course, thinking of the girls' fiction we've been examining, the question arises : why, if it's `natural' for girls to be like that, is so much time and effort spent on forcing them? We've seen how most fiction, especially in the domestic and school categories, was concerned with getting girls to conform to roles which, in many cases, they strenuously resisted. What's natural doesn't have to be taught, surely.p32

The Oxford English Dictionary, though, in saying, of `comfy', that it was `originally infantile or feminine' is maybe unconsciously indicating how women's and children's rights are bound up together. p31

Clearly, no matter how much you pretend, you can't have an in-group without an out-group, or insiders without outsiders. p26

Catching Them Young 2: Political Ideas in

Children's Fiction first published 1977 by

Pluto Press Limited, Unit to Spencer Court, London NW1 8LH

Copyright Pluto Press 1977 ISBN 0 904383 58 x paperback 0 904383 59 8 hardback

Designed by Kate Hepburn

Printed in England by Bristol Typesetting Company Limited,

Barton Manor, St Philips, Bristol

A companion volume,

Catching Them Young t Sex, Race and Class in Children's Fiction also first published by Pluto Press in 1997.

Book Covers by Posy Symonds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November, r976