Children’s literature as World Literature

July 10, 2013

Is there a special connection between children’s literature and world literature?  I’ve always wondered about this.

Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein, and Toni Morrison are just individual examples, and maybe they’re all flukes.   Still, there they are: Hughes’s First Book of Africa; Gertrude Stein’s The World is Round ;the retelling of Aesop’s Fables (The Tortoise or the Hare; The Ant and the Grasshopper) that Morrison did with her son Slade.

What if world literature were to be theorized taking one of these as a core text — taking a genre some might consider sub-literary, but present from the very first, and still going strong in the 21st century century?

Bonnie Tulloch, one of the participants at the IWL, told me this is the very topic she’s working on.

On a whim, I googled James Baldwin, as an unpromising test case — Hughes, Stein, and Morrison had all struck me as likely prospects before I saw their actual books, not Baldwin.   He had always seemed too driven by eloquence to be anything less than adult.   Then I saw these: Fifty Famous Stories Retold, Robinson Crusoe Written Anew for Children, Little Man, Little Man, the Sampo…

Could it be that this one of the peculiarities of world literature: not a field with high-flying concepts, but one for the sub-sub-librarian (as Melville would say): a low-level database, empirical, incremental, populational, not in any rush to settle anything, just waiting for the evidence to add up?

About wcd2

Professor of English and American Studies
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