Thursday, December 3, 2009

Review: Nineteenth-Century Paper Doll Books

Modern-day paper dolls typically entail a cut-out figure (cardboard) and a set of costumes (paper) that are hooked onto this figure with tabs, but the nineteenth-century originators of the form, the publishers and printsellers S. and J. Fuller, utilised a different format. The basic elements of their paper doll books, produced from around 1805 to 1815 but available well after this period, were a small black-and-white book containing a moralistic children's story, a number of coloured cut-out images printed separately on card, showing costumes but sometimes framing these in a wider scene, and a single coloured cardboard head. Each costume had a small tab at its back into which the 'stem' of the head could be inserted to produce a standalone illustration to the storybook.

What I find most interesting about these early paper doll books is the tension between word and image. Moveable books, as has been observed by a number of critics, are characterised by the interplay between narrative and spectacle, expressly, the visual spectacle of both their illustrations and the mechanics of those illustrations. Paper doll books add another dimension to this picture book economy: they focus on clothing and costume, which are inherently spectacular topoi in and of themselves.

To explore this tension further - the titular heroine of the Fullers' History of Little Fanny (1810) is reproached by her mother for her desire to 'show off' her new clothes; her narcissism is the catalyst for the subsequent misfortunes which befall her. But the paper doll figures perform an exactly parallel move when they display Fanny's outfits for the delectation of the child reader. Lucinda of Lucinda, the Orphan (1812) visits a nunnery and idly expresses a wish to join the order. A nun's habit is then produced, and the narrator is at pains to remark, in a manner that throws the book's costume-proud features into relief, 'How much she eclipsed the sisters of the veil need not be told'. Lucinda's hazy admiration for religious belief is much less important than her pleasing appearance in the garments of a nun. More broadly, the drive to propel costumes into each tale, dictated by the formal focus on the paper doll as technical innovation, generates pictorial subtexts which undermine the purported textual morals.

Some images of the Fullers' paper doll books are reproduced here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Review: Patricia Wrede's The Thirteenth Child

Eff, born the unlucky thirteenth child of her large family, is the somewhat troublingly meek protagonist of Patricia Wrede’s The Thirteenth Child. Exploring an emblematically American frontier filled with magic, mythological/prehistoric beasts, and an encroaching enchanted wilderness that her generation will be called upon to combat, Eff struggles to cope with the stigma of her birth, as well as the shadow cast upon her by a magically talented twin brother. After the family is relocated to a growing university town near the Great Barrier, built to keep the dangerous but alluring wilderness at bay, Eff finds herself in that opportunistic space between civilization and wildness where she can begin to develop her hidden talents.

The book has received a lot of attention in the blog-o-sphere this year on the topic of Wrede’s erasure of native populations in her fantasy retelling of the American frontier story. From what I’ve read, these incensed readers offer more of a general critique than a textual one (that is, there isn't a lot of actual close reading that illustrates how colonial or possibly racist themes are played out in the writing), but I do agree with the underlying sentiment, which is that Wrede makes a huge misstep in failing to acknowledge the much more troubling American story that lies beneath Eff’s New World. Wrede’s fantasy, while frequently funny and occasionally enthralling, relies on the American fantasy, or on the erasure of parts of the American story that are ugly, cruel, devastating, and deeply important to remember. Unfortunately, Wrede’s world building suffers as a result of this removal, and the story feels a little plain despite all of Wrede’s storytelling magic.

The Thirteenth Child

by Patricia Wrede

Scholastic Press, April 2009

ISBN: 978-0545033428

Review: L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz, illustrated by Graham Rawle

Collage artist and author Graham Rawle’s 2008 edition of The Wizard of Oz features his cut-out, constructed, borrowed, photographed, glued, and photoshopped illustrations, whose wild hybridity make them appropriate modern companions to L. Frank Baum’s original text. The novel was first published in 1900, but Rawle admits to knowing the story primarily through the 1939 film adaptation, which reached its current iconic status through repeated US television airings beginning in the late 1950s. So it seems fitting that Rawle combines household objects and bits of trash with more traditional collage elements in digital layers to create an Oz that is simultaneously nostalgic and new.

His Oz is, like the Technicolor universe in the film, lush and bizarre and dependent on contemporary technology for the shocking aesthetic that marks it as a true otherworld. But while Rawle uses photographs and other mixed media combinations for a number of minor characters, Dorothy and her travelling companions are all intact, poseable toys, each vintage or reconstructed to look old and worn. The expressions of these characters remain frozen, their gestures stiff, but as the reader accompanies the homely playthings on their adventures through the bright, fantastical landscape, they become increasingly familiar and imbued with personalities. These toys, especially Dorothy, with her matted, patchy hair and homemade doll’s clothes, evoke a wistful air of remembered (or imagined) childhood play in an ambiguous earlier era. And yet the settings against which they pose could not exist without the aid of digital manipulation, and for this reason Rawle’s images seem to be themselves a kind of multi-layered play: they revel in building a comprehensive make-believe world from ordinary objects, project complex personalities onto beloved toys, and delight in the possibilities of new technology, showing it off in images that can include up to 200 digitally arranged layers.

Meanwhile, the large, heavy format of the book and the mixed-font excerpts of text inset on the margins of most pages hint at who is meant to join in this play. Although it can be read straight through, Rawle’s edition feels more like a coffee-table book for adults to flip through, looking at the illustrations and skimming the enlarged quotations as if reading a magazine (indeed, Rawle has also written a novel composed entirely of collaged words from women’s magazines). Thus Rawle’s The Wizard of Oz is in many ways a celebration of a now-past childhood experience of that story. The more disturbing images in the book invite adult readers to consider what role the strange, frightening, and unsettling play in childhood, and to examine their current uses for and reactions to this edition in this light. Meanwhile, the accompanying text, ‘complete and unabridged’, offers the opportunity for this self-referential edition to serve as the defining experience of The Wizard of Oz for a new generation.

The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum

Illustrated by Graham Rawle

London: Atlantic Books, 2008

Hardcover, 352 pages

ISBN: 978-1582434551


Saturday, November 28, 2009

New! CLYCC Pub Trips

There will now be the opportunity for more discussion and socialising following each CLYCC talk, as we will move on to informal drinks at a nearby pub afterwards. This week (8th week) we will head to the Turf Tavern from 6:15. These offer a relaxed way to get to know other scholars and people with academic interests in children's literature and/or youth culture studies. We hope to see you there! As with all CLYCC events, all are most welcome, and feel free to drop in even if you can't make the talk. Directions to the Turf can be found here.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Michaelmas Term 2009 Schedule

The Oxford CLYCC continues to meet on even Mondays in term for the 2009-2019 academic year, at 5:15 PM in Room 11 of the English Faculty Building. Directions to the Faculty can be found here.

19 October (Week 2): Start-of-Year Drinks and Informational Session.
Come meet fellow scholars of children’s literature and youth culture studies. As always, all levels (including undergraduates and those new to the field) are most welcome.

2 November (Week 4): ‘Telling Stories at Campfire: Trying out Graphic Novels in Globalised India’.
Dr. Malini Roy, Independent Scholar.
Roy, an alumna of Keble College, Oxford, looks at the Campfire graphic novels for young readers being currently produced in India, where the genre boasts few published titles as yet. This talk addresses the peculiar dynamics governing this avant garde publishing venture in India's post- globalisation context, where the culture of leisure reading in English, traditionally associated with social privilege, is changing and expanding rapidly yet retains discernible links to the past.

16 November (Week 6): ‘At the Back of George MacDonald: Romanticism, Fairy Tales and the Redemptive Child’.
Prof. Bill Gray, University of Chichester.
Professor Bill Gray discusses George MacDonald's nineteenth-century children's works in relation to Romantic ideas about fairy tales and the redemptive power of children. Gray, who studied literature, philosophy and theology at the universities of Oxford, Edinburgh and Princeton, is an expert in children's fantasy. His publications include the books Fantasy, Myth and the Measure of Truth: Tales of Pullman, Lewis, Tolkien, MacDonald and Hoffmann and Death and Fantasy: Essays on George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, Philip Pullman and R.L. Stevenson.

30 November (Week 8): ‘Playing Dangerously: Transformational Moments in Children's Play within a Global Television Culture’.
Abby Loebenberg, Hertford College.
Social anthropologist, Rhodes Scholar, and Hertford DPhil candidate Abby Loebenberg discusses the findings of her 12-month ethnographic study in Vancouver, Canada on the consumption of commercial Japanese animated television and toys with multi-ethnic children up to age 11. Her work includes a detailed look this material in terms of how we theorise childhood anthropologically, the dangers of space and morality, playing pretend, using play for emotional growth and transformative play.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Centre for the History of Childhood: Becoming a Person, 4 July 2009

Summer Common Room, Magdalen College, High Street, Oxford UK
Orgainized by Professor Laurence Brockliss and Professor George Rousseau. The conference probes concepts of personhood and identity in history.

9:30 – 9:45 Registration in the Summer Common Room

9:45 Introduction and Welcome by Laurence Brockliss (Magdalen College Oxford)

10:00 Olympia Bobou (Brasenose College Oxford), ‘A pais is a pais is a pais: the language of growing up in ancient Greece'

10:45 Sophie Oosterwijk (St Andrews University), ‘Cleansing power: Baptism and the medieval child’


12:00 George Rousseau (Magdalen College Oxford), 'Is Tristram Shandy a Person? Notions and Counter-notions of Personhood in the Enlightenment'

12:45 LUNCH in the New Room, Magdalen College

2:15 Laurence Brockliss (Magdalen College Oxford) and Richard Brown (Dalhousie University), ‘Marks of Personhood: Are Feral Children Human?’

Guest Chairs: Diane Smyth (St Mary’s Hospital, Imperial College Healthcare, London) and Lyn Fry (Psychologist)

3:00 Heather Montgomery (Open University), ‘Becoming a being: before or after birth? The anthropological evidence’.


4:15 Dominic Wilkinson (Green Templeton and the Ethox Centre, Oxford): ‘Premature infants, late-term fetuses, viability and moral status'

5:00 Summing Up


The cost of attendance will be £30 for those who wish to take lunch in the New Room. For those simply wishing to attend the colloquium, there will be a charge of £10 to cover administration costs and tea and coffee. Cheques should be made out to ‘Magdalen College’ and sent to Laurence Brockliss at Magdalen College, Oxford, OX1 4AU

For more information, go to the Centre for the History of Childhood page.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Trinity Term Schedule

Please note that our meeting day and time has changed to Mondays at 5:15 PM in order to prevent clashes with other seminars, in particular our friends at the History of Childhood seminars. We will still meet in Room 11 of the English Faculty Building. All are very welcome! A map and directions to the English Faculty Building can be found here.

Monday, 4 May (week 2):
Barack Obama, Superhero: U.S Presidents, Comic Books, and the Heroic Imaginary
Brian Johnsrud, Hertford College, Oxford
Hertford graduate student and Rhodes Scholar Brian Johnsrud discusses Barack Obama’s disproportionate coverage in graphic novels and superhero television programs such as Heroes and Smallville. This talk suggests that America’s election of President Obama may have revealed not only a new historical precedent, but also a glimpse of how the cultural view of heroes is evolving.

Monday, 18 May (week 4):
Dark Horses: The Lives of Anna Sewell and Black Beauty
Dr Adrienne Gavin, Canterbury Christ Church University
Canterbury Christ Church University Reader in English Literature and Sewell biographer Adrienne Gavin discusses the lives of metaphorical dark horse Anna Sewell and her dark horse creation, Black Beauty, which became a phenomenon in fiction.

Monday, 1 June (week 6):
Low-Rent Boyfriends and Social-Climbing Sisters: Class, Sexuality, and Transgression in Gossip Girl
Ryan Richard Thoreson, Hertford College, Oxford
Rhodes Scholar Ryan Thoreson, a graduate student at the Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology, examines the concept of transgression in the teen television dramedy Gossip Girl. He focuses especially on the roles of class and sexuality in both establishing boundaries and providing ways to cross them.

Monday, 15 June (week 8):
Disney's Alice, Hello Kitty's Alice, and Carroll's Alice: An Aspect of Children's Cultures in the US, UK, and Japan
Yasuko Natsume, Tsuda College, Tokyo
This talk examines American and Japanese animated film adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as a means of accessing children's cultures in the US, UK, and Japan. Natsume's paper focuses on Disney’s self-supporting, independent Alice (who stands in contrast to the majority of early Disney princesses) and Sanrio’s 1993 Hello Kitty™ version, in which Kitty, a Japanese symbol of cuteness, plays the part of Alice.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Place and Space Conference Begins!

The Place and Space in Children's Literature Conference opens this evening with Philip Pullman's keynote speech in Keble College's O'Reilly Theatre. This weekend we will welcome over 100 delegates representing institutions in more than thirteen countries to Oxford, including some of the most eminent names in children's literature studies. Prof. Peter Hunt, Prof. Maria Nikolajeva, Dr. Farah Mendlesohn, and many other children's literature academics will be speaking and participating during what promises to be a very rich conference.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Conference Registration, Panelist List, and Programme Up!

Conference registration for the Place and Space in Children's Literature Conference, organized by the CLYCC, is now open at This conference will take place on 27 -28 March, 2009 in Keble College, University of Oxford, and will feature the work of established academics and young scholars from around the world. Panels range from the place of Oxford in children's literature to text/image interplay in picture books to themes of postcolonial identity and cultural displacement in works for young people. There will also be a special session on working in the field of children's literature studies. More information on the panels, panelists, and conference programme can be found at

Late registration fees will apply after 15 February, 2009.

*There are a limited number of individual tickets available for the keynote speech, which will take place at 17:30 on Friday, 27 March in Keble College’'s O’Reilly Theatre. For those people that would like to attend Pullman’s talk only, these tickets are £3 each. For more information, go to

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hilary (Winter) Term 2009 Schedule

Thursdays, 5:00 PM in Room 11 of the English Faculty Building. All are very welcome!

Thursday, 29 January (week 2):
Rogue Heroes in History: Tricksters in William Godwin's
Early-Nineteenth Century Children's Books

Dr. Malini Roy, Keble College Oxford
Recent graduate of Keble College Malini Roy discusses her doctoral work on Romantic-era political theorist William Godwin. Roy considers how underdog figures in Godwin's books for children challenge and undo structures of oppressive authority, reflecting his anti-establishment politics in the post-French Revolutionary context.

Thursday, 12 February (week 4):
Exploratory Play and the Bid for Freedom in Arthur Ransome's
Swallows and Amazons

Hazel Sheeky, Newcastle University and the National Maritime Museum
Responding to concept of play as a rehearsal for later life, AHRC Collaborative PhD student Hazel Sheeky considers how far play in Ransome's series challenges the notion of inevitable progression from child to adult.

Thursday, 26 February (week 6):
Big Book News or Big Bad Wolves?: 21st Century Children’s Publishing
Dr. Claire Squires, Senior Lecturer in Publishing,
Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies, Oxford Brookes University
Dr. Squires explores some of the key issues around children’s publishing today, including how publishers harness the powers of social networking, multimedia synergies and character licensing; concerns about literacy and reading enjoyment (particularly among boys); distaste about celebrity ‘authorship’; and anxieties that the sector has been hijacked by big corporate publishers.

Thursday, 12 March (week 8):
Dreaming the World: Mirror worlds in Neil Gaiman's
Coraline and Mirrormask

Iain Emsley, Independent Researcher
Independent researcher Iain Emsley considers how Neil Gaiman reworks and develops Carrollesque looking-glass worlds in the mirrors of Coraline and Mirrormask, focusing on the girl protagonists’ roles in constructing such universes through curiosity and imagination.