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“Primal Postcards: ‘Madeline’ as a Secret Space of Ludwig Bemelmans’s Childhood,” by Mary Galbraith

One or more pictures stand out as the book’s primal raison d’etre; that is, there is at least one picture which activates a “flashbulb memory” from the creator’s childhood and which the story explains in an ambiguous way. The manifest storybook explanation for this primal scene is benign and reassuring while the latent and historical interpretation is traumatic and unbearable.

Girl on a Bridge

In blending Cassie’s childlike fantasy with altruism and justice, Ringgold highlights not only one child’s ability to use play to prepare for the stresses of the adult world, but also the power fantasy maintains even for adults when it comes to seeking justice and defining freedom. Flight may be a typical childhood dream, but it’s also a deep motif of resistance in African-American folklore. (In 1985, author Virginia Hamilton packaged that motif expressly for young readers in her gorgeous collection The People Could Fly.) While Cassie’s dress changes color above the George Washington Bridge, the page is bordered with pieces of Ringgold’s story quilt–in which Cassie’s story originally appeared–a testament to the idea that the dream/memory is not only Cassie’s, but that of an entire community.

Who Gets to Imagine?

Who really gets to imagine? Not just to make things up, but to use imagination to navigate the world? As educational tools, illustrated books that give credence not only to children’s waking, real-world experiences, but also to the transformative power of their play, seem most often earmarked for privileged children, just as, for adults, the writing of fiction rooted in pure invention or methodical research, rather than autobiographical experience, is received most seamlessly when it’s done by white authors.