Sunday, 12 January 2014

Childhood reading: Final reflections

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I have now done what we ask our masters students to do, although I have cheated and haven't used any references, and I am not sure about my word count. Some of our harsh markers would probably give me a very low grade for not engaging critically with the sources and spending too much time on plot summaries.

Nonetheless it was a very useful exercise. I had not previouly realised that most of my childhood books were Russian. I read the Great Classics of English-language children's literature later, as a professional. It is interesting to contemplate, with my students' experience as a background, that it is fully possible to develop as a reader without Enid Blyton – in a generic sense, without series fiction with its repetitive plots and stereotypical characters. In fact, I didn't, even as a child, like sequels and was always disappointed by them. It is fully possible to grow up without Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, but, I have to admit, I didn't like these when I had to read them for my children's literature course in Sweden. I guess the books I enjoyed most as a child were fairy tales of all kinds, imaginative books, and when in my late teens I read another wave of foreign classics, including Mary Poppins, Peter Pan and the Moomin books, my preference was confirmed. It is not until I came to Sweden and discovered Maria Gripe, Gunnel Linde and Peter Pohl that I reluctantly conceded that realism was also a legitimate mode of writing. Obviously, I was spoon-fed by realism of the worst kind in the Soviet Union, and the aversion stayed for a long time. That said, look how many social-realistic books I read and loved.

Yet I am still trying to identify the moment when I knew that children's literature was not something I wanted to leave behind. I never stopped reading children's books even when I was grown-up enough to read Vonnegut, Pasternak and Thomas Mann. Half of my ten desert island books are children's books. In my early twenties, in my close circle of friends, we would read children's books aloud, we would give each other children's books for birthdays. So it wasn't just me, but from that circle, only I made children's literature my profession, and it could only happen because I moved to Sweden.

Most of the books in my reading memoir are unknown outside Russia, and although I have written about many of them in my academic piblications, they will remain unknown. I am not sure I should be upset about it. After all, most of the wonderful Swedish children's books are unknown, even if they are translated into English, and many Swedish books that were great and important when I started teaching in the mid-80s are also gone. Yet somehow they have all added up to what I have become, and who knows whether I would be where I am without The Book About Masha.

1 comment:

Milena Mileva Blazic said...

Dear Masha,

i recommended your blog to Slov(venian)Lit(erature) forum as interesting reading for those who are interested in Children's Literature.

I like to read your books and also blog.

Best wishes,



Od: BLAZIC, Milena Mileva
Datum: 09. januar 2014 23:31
Zadeva: Confessions of a displaced hedgehog: Childhood reading --
Bralcem SlovLit-a, posebej tistim, ki jih zanima mladinska
književnost, priporočam v branje blog prof. dr. Marie Nikolajeve,
profesorice mladinske književnosti na Univerzi v Cambridgu. Blog ima
metaforičen naslov Confessions of a displaced hedgehog, ki se navezuje
na knjigo finsko-švedke pisateljice Tove Jansson in serije knjig o
Muminih in "razseljenem ježku". Bralci lahko spremljajo blog tudi
preko Facebooka: .

LP Milena