Reviews 2008

Uitgelezen Jeugdliteratuur. Ontmoetingen tussen traditie en vernieuwing. [‘Excellent Children’s Literature. Encounters between Tradition and Renewal.’]

Uitgelezen Jeugdliteratuur. Ontmoetingen tussen traditie en vernieuwing. [‘Excellent Children’s Literature. Encounters between Tradition and Renewal.’] Vanessa Joosen and Katrien Vloeberghs. Leuven and Leidschendam: Lannoo Campus/Biblion, 2008. 248 pages. €24,95 (paperback).

This reader provides a basic introduction to some of the main issues in children’s literature research applied to contemporary Dutch (including Flemish) children’s literature. The book is written in Dutch and addresses a target group consisting of both scholars and students of children’s literature. In the Dutch title, the word “uitgelezen” has a double meaning, which is difficult (if not impossible?) to reproduce in English. Besides “excellent” it can also mean “finished” as in “finished reading a book.” As implied by its subtitle, this book is based around ten “encounters” between tradition and renewal. The authors Joosen and Vloeberghs apply and critically assess general concepts of established children’s literature research, mainly drawing on German and English writings, to Dutch contemporary children’s literature, a field still relatively unexplored in an international context.

Each of the ten chapters in the book presents a specific “encounter” denoted by its subtitle. The first chapter discusses the inevitable influence of adults on children’s literature, a central issue in research on this genre. This chapter sets a framework for the following chapters, each of which deals with one specific theme or subgenre in children’s literature. Chapter two deals with fantasy stories (“fantasy meets reality”), chapter three is about the adaptation of fairy tales (“tradition meets renewal”), chapter four is about animal stories (“man meets nature”), chapter five deals with (neo-)realistic novels and problem novels (“book meets society”), chapter six discusses adolescent novels of initiation (“child meets adulthood”), chapter seven is on the historical novel (“past meets present”), chapter eight is about how children’s literature deals with the holocaust (“reality meets representation”), chapter nine focuses on illustrated children books and picture books (“word meets image”) and finally, chapter ten deals with the translation of children’s literature (“the encounter of two languages and cultures”).

This book is the first reader written in Dutch presenting an overall introduction to contemporary research on children’s literature applied to recent Dutch and Flemish children’s books. In its combination of theory and practice the book forms a unique complement to other Dutch publications in the field, for example Rita Ghesquière’s more theoretical Het Verschijnsel Jeugdliteratuur (The phenomenon of children’s literature, latest edition published 2000) and Jan van Coillie’s more practice-oriented Leesbeesten en Boekenfeesten (latest edition published 2007).

As clearly stated by the authors in the introduction, one goal has been to approach children’s literature in all its diversity by integrating not only literary and aesthetic children’s books, but also more popular and didactic works. That Joosen and Vloeberghs succeed in this is reflected in the diversity in themes and subgenres covered by the different chapters, as well as by the broad range of examples used throughout the book. At the same time the book shows the diversity in the field of research on children’s literature. This is especially true of the last two chapters, which provide interesting introductions to recent developments in research on the relationship between word and image in picture books (Chapter 9) and the translation of children’s literature (Chapter 10).

The book’s set-up is very didactic; its main strength lies in the eloquent combination of theory and practice. By the use of references and parallels to commonly known books and even films (e.g. Harry Potter) the literary analyses are made more inviting and accessible to readers with little previous knowledge of the field. One example is the discussion and analysis of Little Red Riding Hood, which is used to illustrate the adaptation of fairy tales in chapter three. The discussion starts with the early, and probably best known, versions of the story by Charles Perrault and the Grimm Brothers. From there it goes on to analyse two contemporary Dutch versions of the story: the feminist retelling Rood Rood Roodkapje (Red Red Red Riding Hood, 2003) by the Dutch writer Edward van de Vendel and the Flemish illustrator Isabelle Vandenabeele, and the more artistic and fragmented collage version Roodlapje (Little Red Rag, 2003) by the Flemish illustrator Pieter Gaudesaboos.

The well designed layout and clear division into chapters, each supplemented by an extensive and in many cases even annotated list of recommended readings, together with small frames providing extra information on literary terms and concepts, make the book a user-friendly and accessible educational tool. Although designed to be used in higher education in The Netherlands and Flanders, this book will certainly also be welcomed at the Dutch departments of foreign universities.

Sara Van Meerbergen
Stockholm University, Sweden