Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children's Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter Hardcover – Nov 13 2000
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From School Library Journal
Is the success of children's literature troublesome? Is it phenomenal? How do we judge the value of children's literature within the current culture that fosters the commercialization of childhood itself? In a series of essays mostly based on speeches given at various conferences, a scholar and social critic examines these and other provocative questions. Describing his passionate essays as "active talk," Zipes is nevertheless sometimes dense and arcane especially when he ventures into the political arena. He is most interesting when he writes directly about children's literature-the fairy tales retold by Wanda G g, the checkered history of the Grimm tales and their retellers, the history of storytelling and the appeal of Struwwelpeter. The phenomenon of Harry Potter is the subject of his final essay, and as he moves from literary to social critic, he finds Harry "part of the eternal return to the same-and, at the same time, part of the success and process by which we homogenize our children." Though the book is sometimes tedious, Zipes is always thought-provoking in his arguments.-Barbara Scotto, Michael Driscoll School, Brookline, MA
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
If [Zipes'] scholarship could be spread over several curricule vitae, the breadth and quality of it could certainly bring tenure to three or four scholars. -- Donald R. Hettinga
. . . he gives clear voice to the forces behind the huge boom in children's book publishing since the 1980s, which has served to form a safe veil of promoting literacy that disguises its own truth, namely that children are seen as commodities and used as pawns to increase parental consumerism. -- Adolescence
...adult-friendly content and an imposition of order in the imagination of the child, and, consequently, a constriction of the child's imaginative life. -- Susan Perren, Globe & Mail, Toronto
...stimulating esssays emphasize the curious status of children's literature as one defined, produced, and marketed not by children but by adults... -- Choice, J.J. Benardete, CUNY Hunter College
...invaluable chapters treat the 'contamination'...of Grimm's fairy tales in the 20th century, suggesting how such retellings refurbish folklore so as to 'question both past and present social conditions' and show young people how they may 'play creatively with the forces dictating how they are to shape their lives.'. -- Choice, J.J. Benardete, CUNY Hunter College
89 Pts !!!!! Must Read. -- Today's Books
[Zipes's] passion for his topic is clear...his essays spotlight complex issues that deserve wide consideration. -- The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Zipes is always thought-provoking in his arguments. -- School Library Journal
While not every reader will agree entirely with Zipes's thesis, professionals need to be aware of his point of view. -- Library Journal
Top Customer Reviews
The first four chapters of the book, peppered with the somewhat off-putting jargon of literary theory, deplore the vertical integration of publishing empires, the marketing of books in association with toys, games, gadgets, T-shirts, etc., which results in "cultural homogenization" of the children. Adults decide "what's good for children" and use literature, among other tools, to manipulate and control them.
In chapters 5-9, the discussion gains momentum by using concrete examples of literature written for children. Changing attitudes toward Grimms' Fairy Tales and the "Struwwelpeter" stories of Heinrich Hoffmann have spawned multiple translations, bowdlerizations, dramatizations and parodies. The author shows how the "sexist" content of most fairy tales (the hero is almost always a male) has triggered feminist re-interpretations. Finally, there is no "authentic" version of fairy tales; all of them, including the ones collected by the Brothers Grimm, have been "contaminated", i.e. adapted and collated from multiple sources.
The final chapter on the phenomenal success of the Harry Potter books seems to be the one most American readers have focused on. It stresses the stereotypical aspects of the stories and the commercial hype that attended their release, and, again, their sexist nature - one of the author's pet peeves.
While some of these arguments seem excessively gloomy, all of them deserve our thoughtful consideration.
Zipes's point, so far as I could make it out, is that Harry Potter became a "phenomenon" only because the books are incredibly conventional (a "hodgepodge" of pop-culture motifs) and formulaic. I agree that each novel follows a recurring pattern, even a formula, but Zipes never says why that's bad. (Perhaps it's obvious to lit-crit folk.) And the pop-culture ties, IMHO, lend texture to Rowling's parallel universe--which, I increasingly think, is not fantasy but satire.
Actually, Zipes goes further, seemingly asserting that ONLY a conventional work could become a phenomenon, given the "hegemonic groups" that run our culture. That's a big, interesting assertion, and I wish Zipes had fleshed it out with reasoning, details, and examples. It would help too to know more about these nameless hegemons. Who are they? How do they enforce their cultural supremacy? (In fairness to Zipes, he may address these points earlier in the book.)
Several readings of the Harry Potter chapter--and a thumbs-down from the prof, who read the whole volume--have left me thinking this is a book to skip.
The Harry Potter chapter was well done. Zipes dares to make the points that Rowling's work is sexist and elitist, that the characters are cliches, and that more people _say_ they have read them than actually have.
What I felt the book lacked was a concrete plan to improve the situation--then again I'm not sure that was what he was after.
A great read for students of literature in general!
Zipes misses the point on the importance of the scar - the scar is the central metaphor of the series and the importance of scars and wounding says something about our culture's adoption of this particular hero.
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