The Darker Side of Children's Literature - Transcript

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The following is a transcript of a lecture Timothy Young (Yale University) delivered at Dublin City Library & Archive on 28th September, 2015, titled 'Happy Deaths and Urban Dangers: The Darker Side of Children's Literature'.


Welcome to the Dublin City Public Libraries and Archive Podcast. In this episode Timothy Young of Yale University discusses the darker side of children's literature. Recorded in front of a live audience at Dublin City Library & Archive on 28 September 2015.

Master of Ceremonies (MC)
So again, now, I would like to introduce our speaker for the evening.  It gives me great pleasure to introduce Timothy Young.  Timothy is Curator of the Betsy Beinecke Shirley Collection of American children’s literature housed at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University.  In his role as Curator, he builds collections, works with researchers and educates students about historical resources.  He is Author of ‘Drawn to Enchant:  Original Children’s Book Art’ in the Betsy Shirley collection.  He is Co-Editor of ‘The Great Mirror of Folly.  Finance, Culture, and the Crash of 1720’ and he is Editor of ‘The Uncollected David Rakoff’.  I presume that’s in a collection?  Yeah.  He contributes regularly to the Yale Review writing on music and books and is a contributor to writing on book design related matters.  But Tim is also much more than this.  I met Tim several years ago when I was researching at the New York Public Library and because Yale holds the Betsy Beinecke Shirley Collection and Trinity holds the Pollard Collection of children’s books it was on that basis I suggested we meet for a coffee to talk about children’s literature and it was a quite fruitful conversation.  It resulted in Tim and Professor Katie Trumpener coming to Trinity to delivery two public collectors.  It has also led to the establishment of the Yale TCD Alumni Bursary for research in children’s literature and it has also led to a link between Trinity, the School of English in Trinity, and Yale University.  Tim is also one of the most inspiring individuals I have ever met.  His enthusiasm for literature, and children’s literature in particular, is infectious.  His depth and breadth of knowledge in every subject never ceases to amaze me and he has been a great supporter of the National Collection of Children’s Books Project ever since myself and Keith put pen to paper to write the application for funding and this is why we are absolutely thrilled to have him here tonight to launch the NCCB website and the activation with his lecture ‘Happy Deaths and Urban Dangers: the Darker Side of Children’s Literature’ – Timothy Young. 


Timothy Young (TY)

Good evening.  Thanks for coming out and thanks for the high praise but this is actually something I love so I have been looking forward to this talk more than anything at all this year.

It’s a great honour to be here and to talk about children’s literature under the aegis of the National Collection of Children’s Books Project and the team and at the invitation of a group of scholars who are both dedicated researchers and librarians.  So thank you Padraig, Keith, Ciara, Ciara and Paolo for all you have done to make this possible and also to give me the inspiration for my talk.  I also want to thank the Irish Research Council and all the participating libraries because this is actually a very forward looking project to create a catalogue like this.  We don’t have one in the US and so we may actually model ourselves on you.  And what a fun way to commemorate a project like this with an exhibition about sadness, violence death and monsters!  (Laughter)  I say that only half jokingly because I think that there’s a very smart and somewhat brave step to take a close look at books for children that are necessarily disturbing and upsetting.  It’s an easy thing to do praise beautiful and charming books for children, what takes patience and focus is to examine books that are about difficult subjects, sort of like your life actually.  So, as a caveat to all you in the audience, I must warn you that I will be discussing books about death and danger that were geared to juvenile audiences.  I don’t think that there are any images that are truly terrifying but just be advised that the subject matter, as we say in America, is a bit deep.
So let’s start with a story of ... sorry, actually one second now, okay, this actually is a longer version of a slideshow so pardon me while I actually get over here.  We’re going to start with Cruel Jack not Brave George because that’s what we’ll talk about right here.  This is a book issued by the Sabbath School Society in Boston Massachusetts sometime between 1839 and 1842 as one of their infant series and the Sabbath School Project was actually an attempt for religious organisations to get books in the hands of young readers intentionally with very, very strong religious stories and world stories to them.  Let’s actually just look at Cruel Jack and see what we can find and if you don’t mind I’ll read a little bit to you.

Who does not love to hear the birds sing?  I know a little boy whose name is Jack.  He is a cruel boy.  He likes to hear the birds sing well enough but he loves to tease them.  Oh Jack is a cruel boy.  Once he climbed up into a high tree, there was a pretty nest there, a Robin Redbreast nest, a pretty Robin which used to come under Jack’s window every morning and sing to wake him up, and Robin had her eggs in her nest way up high in the tree.  She did not think anyone could find it there but Cruel Jack found it and when Robin Redbreast had gone for her supper he climbed up and stole the eggs and made holes in them and strung them around his neck.  He did not leave one solitary one.  How poor Robin Redbreast flew about and cried because her nest was robbed.  I hope you will never be a cruel boy like that.  He would take little birds too when he could find them.  Sometimes he would wring their necks and sometimes he would shut them up and feed them and they would die.  I would not be a cruel boy.  God does not love a cruel boy.  No one loves him.  Let the birds live and fly about as God made them to do and do not trouble their nests.

And then it goes on a little bit further, it’s only about 8 pages, but it talks about what happens and it even has a bit of a rhyming moral story here.  But if you look on page 7 it says:
Cruel boys if God let’s them live to grow up often become cruel men.  (Laughter)

That’s an important point.

And sometimes Murderers end their days on the gallows.

And then it gives us a bit of sort of bizarre story about a young man only 19 years old who actually ended his days on the gallows and he was asked did he like to be cruel and he said ‘He’d be delighted to kill animals’ and he said ‘Oh yes I like to kill them’, ‘Well better than anything else?’, ‘Yes I think I did’, ‘Did you ever wish to kill people if they opposed or vexed you?’, ‘I don’t know that I did but I used to want to kill when they didn’t act to suit me’.  To what a dreadful end that boy’s cruelty brought him.  But the most important thing is what are the children rewarded with at the end of this lovely little book?  A picture of a man hanging from the gallows.

Now the lesson is pretty simple, that the wages of sin and moral behaviour are death and even further, that inherent sin if not addressed at a point in a child’s youth will lead to evil behaviour that will actually end up with a cruel punishment.  So is this a proper book to give to children?  Well it is in a way that other books were.  You may all know the very popular story called ‘Babes in the Wood’ or ‘The Children of the Wood’ based on a very, very old English folk tale song that was re-printed hundreds of times and this is actually a nice little hand coloured edition from the 18th Century, from the US, and it involves an uncle who wants to take the inheritance of two young children that he is given custody of and he let’s them wander them out into the woods and really starve and die and this panel is the most effective about:

The babes were lost in this thick wood and they died.  A robin covered them with leaves and thus he made their grave.

So these poor children actually succumbed to the elements.  The uncle is found out in the end but the children are lost.  But at the same token in the New England Primer which was the most re-printed book of the 18th Century in the US.  It was basically de facto school book of widest use in the American colonies.  All the editions are printed.  There was on illustration that was common to all of them and what was it?  It was of John Rogers, the Protestant Martyr, being burned at the stake.  So even these very, very popular books, educational books for children, had some very shocking or violent imageries that were a part of them.

So what do these books that seem intended to frighten children have in common?  Before we venture an analysis of why these books have been produced I want to actually talk about two very sort of deep themes that I came across in my collecting of children’s books at the Library that became extremely popular in the 18th and 19th centuries but are not well known nowadays.  The first thing is ‘Happy Deaths of Pious Children’ (Laughter).  Many people asked me what I was talking on and I say this and people sort of just like laugh very nervously because they say ‘How can that be?’ and it’s a phrase that actually fills us with apprehension and even the term ‘happy death’ seems oxymoronic.  So let’s actually look at that, where does that come from?  So ‘happy death’ actually comes out of a tradition of religious texts, Catholic religious texts, written around 1414-1450 and it’s called the Ars Moriendi and what these were, these were doctrinal tracks that were ... the ownership is anonymous but they were copied and distributed amongst religious authorities and used to instruct church members that in the same way that there were very, very strict rules about how to live a good moral happy life, you also had to be very, very conscious of and planning for your death because death didn’t come just as a matter of consequence that the very end of death you would be tempted by certain types of ... you’d face certain types of temptations such as, right here, that you would abandon your faith, that you would give in to despair or that you might be attached to worldly things and even you might at the last moment in your weakness, your bodily and your moral and soul’s weakness, you might be tempted and give your life over to demons and devils.  So this was in fact a truly a practical type of education that was used as a part of sort of church instruction.  Well, you could imagine that in the hands of very conservative puritan writers and thinkers it quickly became something that was introduced into the moral education of children.  So what happens is in 1671 James Janeway, again a very conservative Protestant preacher, born and lived most of his life outside of London, publishes a book called ‘A Token for Children’, being an exact account of the conversion of holy exemplary lives and joyful deaths of several young children.  It’s a collection of narrative biographies of 13 children, 7 boys and 6 girls, who died in childhood between the ages of 5 and 14.  The causes of their death were varied but we know at least a few of them from other historical research died because of the Plague, Small Pox or Measles.  Janeway was Author of several other books that were also about sort of the topic which is the absolute way to Protestant salvation.  His token biography was often re-printed and imitated and in a way became of the most popular and influential children’s books, if not religious children’s books, in the Anglo Saxon reading world for about 150 years.  But let’s look at actually what he intends in this book.  As with any instructional moral book for children there usually is a preface in which the author lays out his or her intentions ... I’m actually going to skip to a little bit further in here ... I think this is the next page ... okay.  Yeah, I think it’s on the very bottom, right here.  So you’ll see right here where he actually asks the child reader:

Are you willing to go to hell and to be burned with the devils and his angels?  Would you be in the same condition as naughty children?

And it goes on and on and on.  So he’s actually preparing you for what he’s going to be showing you in the book and what he shows you ... actually  let me just forward here ... are these separate biographies.  This book was so influential that in the colonies our own religious zealot, Cotton Mather, took the book and re-printed it without permission and added his own stories of children living in the new world as ‘A Token for the Children of New England’ and he did the same type of biographical works that Janeway had pioneered about 50 years before.  So what do you actually get when you read one of these biographies?  Here’s one, actually the very first example of the Janeway edition is a called named Sarah Howley.  If you can see part of what it says, the description here, it says that she was a child who came to accept the Gospel when she was about 8 years old or as the narrative has it:

This child was highly awakened and made deeply sensible of the condition of her soul and her need of Christ.

Which was just right down there.  It goes on for several pages but the most important parts later on is right ... let me see ... yeah here we go.  You see toward the end, right, okay here.  Just kind of like there.

That she was so enflamed with passion that she was exceedingly desirous to die and cried out ‘Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.  Conduct me to thy tabernacle’ and indeed she died on February 19th 1670 to enter into an everlasting Sabbath.

Another example, a very short one, appears later in the book, is a young fellow named John Langham who was the son of a Knight and a Baronet who was only 5 years old when he passed in 1659.  He is described as being somewhat of a prodigy.  Reading books and memorising catechism at a very young age.  The final description in his short narrative which I find ... and I’m teasing you by showing you these really exciting narratives and not really reading them.  The very last section right here says:

What an instrument of God’s glory might he have proved?  What a deal of service might he have done for God in all likelihood had he lived to old age?  But it was God’s doing.
And what I’m skipping over is that usually it’s events where they’re talking about the more they learn the child becomes very, very passionate and they preach to other children and they correct other children’s behaviour and then they enter into their final phase of their sickness with a very, very happy countenance and actually they are longing for the death to come to them.  So that’s the very, very shorthanded version of the Pious Death tale.  Editions of these books stayed in print for over 100 years in the US, England and in Ireland, usually either as books that were printed in England and then were imported for sale.  I think in the catalogue I found one in print of Janeway that actually was printed in Dublin.  It would be very interesting ... I think this project is going to reveal some pieces of book history like that, to see if there actually was a native history of this book here.  But in the United States there were sort of flushes of popularity related with the rise and fall of religious fervour, what we call the great awakenings and this happens at least three times in the 18th and 19th century in the US and most specifically in the second great awakening of religious passion in the US between 1800 and 1830 during which we coined the phrase Evangelical Movement.  There were more collections that actually started to update the story.  So here is a book actually from 1819 printed in Boston compiled by George Hendley called ‘A Memorial for Sunday School Girls’, being the second  part and authentic account of the conversion experience and happy deaths of 25 children.  The first part is about boys and the second part the young ladies get their stories told and, again, you can see there, I mean it’s a bit sort of morbid, the image of these, it’s not just a story but sort of a necrology.  But the narrative remains sort of the same and this sample story is of Sarah Aldren who died at 12 years of age, like the other stories, she evidenced a keen understanding of religious teachings at a young age and exhibited one of the signs common to many of the young martyrs, which as you see over here, preaching to her peers.  The quote:

When one day at the house of a neighbour who was very fond of her she heard him say some bad words.  She went up to him, called him by name and told him if he did not leave off such evil ways God will not love him.

And soon enough ... at the end right here, the end of her story:

After suffering much pain and with great patience her happy spirit quitted the tenement of clay to be forever with the Lord in the year 1802.

So even with these few examples we sort of see threads that run through the biographies that I’ve mentioned before that the child has some exposure to religious teaching, they usually come from a religious family if you read the full stories, that they come to a form of awakening which is really just their own consciousness of their spirit and the state of salvation.  They also have precociousness of spirit, these tend to be very, very smart children who show that they have an ability at a young age to understand these deep concepts and they have a desire to evangelise and point out behaviour in other children.  I was reading these to a colleague of mine and she said they also have this narrative quality, when you read these they are like little hagiographies, they’re likes lives of saints, because toward the end all these children start to be so holy that there is no choice for them but to actually ascent to heaven because they are so informed and so righteous so they actually have an aura about them as if they actually already were sainted.  The moral of the story, very basically, is salvation.  But within the strict puritan context it was a salvation that had to be chosen as an elective personal embrace of the Gospel by the child, that’s because children in very, very strict Protestant teaching as soon as a child was old enough to understand the world by themselves it was up to them to elect their own salvation.  They couldn’t be saved if they didn’t have any kind of excuse except for they were responsible for their own understanding of the Gospel.

So this may seem to our 21st Century eyes to be a very harsh burden to put on the children’s conscience but to understand the position of the child as a construct, as a category of human life, I think it’s interesting to look at one of the most influential ministers, the Calvinist Minister Jonathan Edwards, who led the first great awakening in the US in the mid 18th Century.  Looking through his work I found this section from his sermon originally published around 1742 included in his collection thoughts on the revival of religion in New England where he makes the observations.  A couple of ... I’ll just read this first section here and then I’ll skip to the inflammatory second section.  So he actually is addressing some criticism he has received from some colleagues about his very blunt and harsh take on childhood and he says:

What has given offence to many and raised a loud cry against some preachers as though their contact were intolerable is their frighting of poor innocent children that talk of hell fire and internal damnation.

And then he actually explains a little bit further.  But the most important part which says, right here:

As innocent as children seem to be to us yet if they are out of Christ they are not so in God’s sight but are young vipers and are infinitely more hateful that vipers and are in a most miserable condition as well as wrong persons.

So basically I mean he is not making any kind of excuses he is just saying that children, just  like any other adult human being, are responsible for their own salvation.  If you are not saved you are damned.  You are a viper.  You are pretty badly off.  And if you read Jonathan Edwards he’s actually a really great writer and this is the way he lovingly tells the truth to his congregation.

So you can see that there was no special dispensation allowed to children in terms of salvation, even to the point that the ‘Tokens for Children’ that we’ve seen did not contain any kind of flourishes such as illustrations, they were very plain, puritan style books.  However, to give us a tiny bit of historical distance and maybe a little bit of levity I will show you a book that takes this theme ... actually here we go ... into the 20th Century.  I don’t know if you know the American Illustrator and Humorist named Edward Gorey?  A fantastic, really deft smart hand and he was really good at taking historical tropes and putting them into an interesting sort of humorist context.  So I’m showing you this, this is an illustrated version of a token story.  It’s almost word-for-word what you would find, so it’s interesting that he does this without barely even chilling it.  So this is the story of The Pious Infant and if you’ll allow me:

Little Henry Clump was scarcely three years old when he found out that his heart was wicked but that God loved him nevertheless.  Once when he saw a seagull rise up from the waves ‘Look, look’ he said to his sister, Fanny Eliza, ‘When I die I shall go up to heaven like that bird.’  He habitually went without sweet things so that he might give pennies to stop the poor heathen from bowing down to idols.  He dearly loved his parents and never tired of asking what he might do for them. (Laughter) Although he was kind and good he was sometimes tempted by Satan, but he felt his sins deeply and was truly sorry for them afterwards.

Just pointing out this is Satan see the little tangled tail right there?

He was often discovered alone upstairs on his knees.  One Sunday he saw some boys sliding on the ice; he went up to them and said ‘Oh, what a shame it is for you to idle on the Sabbath instead of reading your Bibles!’.  He was very fond of Fanny Eliza and whenever she got into a passion, became much concerned for the salvation of her soul. (Laughter)
This is my favourite part.

He used to go through books and carefully blot out any places where there was a frivolous mention of the Deity.  (Laughter)  On a winter afternoon when he was four years old and five months he went to give his bread pudding to an unfortunate widow.  As he was returning home a great black cloud came up and large hailstones fell in profusion.  That night he had a sore throat, which by morning had turned into a fatal illness. (Laughter)  His last words were ‘God loves me and has pardoned all my sins, I am happy!’ before he fell back pale and still and dead.  Henry Clump’s little body turned to dust in the grave but his soul went up to God.

Now I show that for a little bit of levity but I point out that it’s very interesting because if you didn’t have the pictures and if I was reading this sort of blindly that is almost indistinguishable except for a couple of the funny little words that he uses from these actual narratives and I think he did this because he knew that ... just our distance, our historical distance, would allow us to actually laugh at it because it’s quaint now but this is almost a word-for-word story.

So let’s have ... I’m going to tie this in for a second ... let’s have a look at another theme that I’ve been looking at that ties in sort of interestingly with this which is another scary thing for children which is urban dangers and let’s start off with ‘The book of Accidents’ which was published in New Haven where I live nowadays but it was published almost 200 years ago.  ‘The Book of Accidents:  Designed for Young Children’ by Babock Press, the large Publisher of children’s books foremost in New England at that period, and if you look at this book I think it’s interesting to read the little preface note from the author which says:

In presenting to his little readers ‘The Book of Accidents’ the author conceived he cannot render a more important service to the rising generation and to parents than by furnishing them with an account of the accidents to which children, from their experience or carelessness, are liable.

And unbelievable as it may seem it’s just a complete compendium of what can happen to c children if they are heedless to warnings of adults and what are the dangers?  Playing with horses.  Crossing streets.  Worrying dogs – which means messing with them until they snap the cord and come after you.  Playing with knifes and fire arms, I mean something that is all too real.  Climbing on chairs.  Boys fighting, although that’s a real danger, that just the human condition.  Falling out of a window.  Troubling the cook.  (Laughter)  My favourite line from that part says:

This little girl is seen rushing forward to tell some idle tale, perhaps to the cook.

So not only is she endangering himself but she is actually telling very boring stories to this poor cook.  But as you can see actually you are seeing there are dangers from the urban outside world but several of these things are actually from inside houses.  So like falling from a chair when you have an open fireplace is very, very dangerous.  So a lot of these things in context are in fact very real.

Here’s another book from a couple of decades earlier called ‘The Third Chapter of Accidents’.  I actually  just showing this picture here, it’s the end of the story, of a gruesome story, about a woman who kept a pet lion who killed his man servant (Laughter), as you can see here and I’m sure this is probably the most popular picture in the entire book for most kids.  But this book called ‘The Third Book of Accidents’ also talks about the dangers of travelling in foggy weather, about a coach that crashed.  But what I find interesting is right here there’s a little story called ‘The Young Lamp Lighter’ and what it tells about is a very short little anecdote, third hand news that the Author heard, that whilst a lamp lighter went to a public house to drink some beer.  So basically a public lamp lighter with a flame goes to have a beer and two school boys find the lamp wick and try to climb the ladder but they became giddy, they fall down and they are scalded with oil.  I chose this because this is definitely an urban story.  Only in an urban setting could a child find a flaming lamp lighter and then be burnt by scalded oil after becoming giddy of course.

There’s a third book I found which I think is actually ... I like the title here because it’s ‘The Beacon; or Warnings for Thoughtless Boys’ which was published in New York between 1856 and 1857 and I think it’s interesting that there’s such longevity to these books.  I’ve been trying to track down other ones but at least knowing that they were in print for probably at least 50 years in the 19th Century is kind of telling.  So this story has some similar things.  This first book, ‘Reckless Boy’ is about a little boy who gave his mother a great deal of trouble and she had to keep telling him about getting hurt or killed.  What he would do, if he saw a horse in the street he would run up close to him and pull his tail or strike his hind legs with a stick.  He once in this way had a kick from a horse but what happens later you see one day when he was out driving his hoop he saw a play mate on the other side of his way and so off he ran to meet him without looking to see if the road was clear.  A loaded cart was just in passing and John in his eager and careless haste hit his foot against a stone and fell and the wheel of the cart passed over him and crushed him to death and this is a full page wood cut in the little book.  So this is a story that keeps coming over and over again which is the danger of traffic.  But there is another story about a little boy climbing up a tree to trouble a bird’s nest.  I saw this and I thought the 19th Century must have been very boring for boys because all you had to do was trouble birds’ nests.  But the same thing, he falls down and hits his head.  But my favourite tale of all, is this contemporary tale.  I will read it to you.

Here is a mask.  It is employed to conceal the face.  It is a pretty thing for amusement when it is properly used.  A hateless boy once put on an ugly mask to amuse himself by alarming some very small boys and girls and one of them was so terrified that she died the next day.  (Laughter)

I can’t cite any sources for this but it’s very interesting that the Author for this tale sort of just like crammed together anything that he thought could actually have been harmful.  Some of them are actual dangers – horse carts, falling down trees.  But the other one is just the emotional fragility of young children, especially young girls, that a scary mask could actually scare them to death, literally.

So you know what do we do with these types of stories?  I think it’s obvious, that children need to be made aware of the dangers that are present in the world both inside the house and outside the house, especially in a rapidly modern, urbanising and changing 19th Century world.  Growing cities are certainly full of dangers and a number of threats actually were quite real and if you look, I did a little bit of checking, all of these things happened with regularity.  Children were run over, they were falling out of windows, they actually were being burned in households.  It was a fact of life and death at the time.  But, less we think that such sermonising was only active in the past I was doing this research and stumbled happily on a comic book produced in the United States in the late 1950s for American school children called ‘It’s Great To Be Alive: An Official Safety Manual’.  I’m just going to show you a couple of stories and pictures but it’s all about bicycle safety and what do we know about bicycle safety?

Screeching brakes but too late Tommy is crippled for life.

And this one which I think ... I mean probably the reason why they produced it only in black and red ... While hiding in a leaf pile you could be run over by a truck.

So, and there’s an impact.  When I saw this too and I have shown several friends they go ‘I love this picture, it’s so hilarious’ and then they stop themselves and they go ‘Oh, I mean ...’ because they are seeing something that ... I  mean this is a hideous, gruesome picture here but it was drawn that way because school kids needed to be warned that this happened, this will happen.  You probably actually know somebody this will happen to.  But maybe in this way, even if in sort of a funny cartoon way, you might think twice about the dangers of the world around you.

So what are the common features of urban danger books?  They are warnings about real threats.  They are often addressed to children who are heedless to instruction, those sort of boneheaded kids who won’t listen to you but they’ll actually see pictures.  The children also are very wilful and often ignore what parents are saying to them and they have an inherent attraction to bad behaviour and in the 19th Century books I don’t show it here but if you think back about poor ‘oul Jack there is an entwining of the moral and the religious and it’s not just that you’ll suffer but God also won’t love you if you do these things.  Your parents are mad enough but you’re really going to tick off God and what happens is then you’re actually completely exiled from any love or salvation ever.

My last slides didn’t make it so let me just ... I’ll just leave it on there and the rest you’ll have to take on faith from me.  So how do the books relate to each other?  In ‘Pious Deaths’, again this thing is very obvious if you read a lot of these things, in ‘Pious Deaths’ books the concerns is about the salvation of the soul and in urban danger books it’s about the concern for the safety of the body and these two things share an apex which is the concern for the survival of our children by using cautionary tales to teach them about the dangers of the physical world and the need for some system of moral and ethical behaviour that will keep them safe in the outside world.  In more finely finessed words and in fact these are the observations from Dr White that we talked about over the summer when I was looking on this talk he pointed out that while the text and images of the books may appear at first read to be over zealous these are subjects that have various concerns.  They reveal a lot about our desires and thoughts to construct children as beings that must be saved in one way or the other and there are a pair of truths competing and complimentary at work in the books – childhood death is a tragedy but we can deal with the pain of the real dangers of this reality by being very blunt with children when talking about them, even though we also want to laugh out loud thinking that or really hoping that these dangers are so outrageous they will never actually happen.  At a safe historical distance reading them is a parity or cliché, it pokes fun at our adult concerns and anxieties which are always going to be present when we talk about this subject.

So the words and explicit images were meant to grab the attention of the reader and instil codes of behaviour and goals which we even find in contemporary children’s books.  I was just looking in the book shop down the street here and there was a book that’s called ‘Everything Is Dangerous’, have you seen this book?  And on the cover it says ‘Don’t read this book while walking across the street’, I mean it’s from last year and it’s a parity but that’s not a lesson to be lost on anybody.

But for me and my fellow Librarians and people who do research in children’s literature discussing books about topics like this allows us to bring the focus of the field of children’s literature to a point, I already said it before, that is not overly precious or dismissive because after all our personal histories of literature start with books that we read as children, books that entertained us and made us laugh, but also books that scared us and made us think twice about venturing out into a busy street or into a dark night.  So, without labouring it too much, I think that books, like this, are right subjects for the work of scholars and teachers who use them to demonstrate many thanks.  The scholars can look at these books and investigate how religious doctrine is conveyed in the context of matters of the soul, matters of the body.  They can work out more difficult questions about how stories work best for younger children as scary cautionary tales or as more gentle attempts at behaviour modification and how these approaches change over time.  They will also look closely at the placement and value of illustrations, do pictures actually have an effect or are they something that might be a bit divergent from the actual words?  In short, there is a lot of material even in the tiniest books really just to work with and by saying that it’s important that libraries, public and academic libraries of all types, collect and preserve any kind of children’s books they can.  I am lucky enough to work with a collection at Yale and you are lucky to have a great number of collections which now are easier to access and discover due to the National Collection of Children’s Books Project which will shed lights on children’s books even in the darkest corners.  Thank you for your patience. 


Questions and Answers

TY:  Questions or ...?
MC:  Yeah why not.
TY:  Okay. 
MC:  Wow, (Laughter) this is quite an end.  Thank you very much Tim for a wonderful lecture.  I think we might have time for just one or two questions.  (Laughter)
TY:  Yeah, very short questions.
MC:  Does anybody have a question for Tim?
Attendee:  It’s too dangerous.  (Laughter)
MC:  This is an urban danger.  (Laughter)
TY:  Yes, mean librarians and what have you.
MC:  I mean I have lots of questions that I wanted to ask him because I just think it’s a fascinating topic and the relationship between the domestic and the urban and the soul and the body within these texts.  But I was wondering if you had encountered texts where there was crossover of the attempts to protect the soul and the body in one, if you could talk ...?
TY:  Well that’s interesting because when I talk about this I always think to myself do I want to do ‘Happy Deaths’ or do I want to do ‘Urban Dangers’ and I said, well, let me talk about the two of them because I think, my talk, I wanted to sort of just put it out there and say here are two interesting topics that most people will never see because these books were small, they were obscure.  Unless you actually work in our field you may never actually encounter a book called ‘The Book of Accidents’ and, believe me, when I blog about that I get so much response from graphic designers and historians who say ‘Wow, why would they make a book like this?’.  So what happens as you see around the early 19th Century when you had these books about urban dangers if they are actually a longer form narrative, like this book called ‘Poor ‘Oul Jack’ and the one I didn’t read you is the one called ‘Brave George’.  So Brave George is told to stay in his seat, I love this because of the severity in a sense, you know one child goes and like wrings baby birds’ necks, which is horrible.  Brave George goes and upsets an ink bottle and he dies like feeling he is the most horrible child on earth, right, but he is forgiven.  He is actually given lashes because it’s a Calvinist school.  But he is forgiven.  So what happens is that in these long form stories like that, like ‘Brave George’ and ‘Poor ‘Oul Jack’, you always have some section where it says ‘And God won’t love you’ and actually your behaviour on earth is reflective of your understanding of your place in the role for salvation.  So what happens is it says that any of these secular activities, like killing an animal, being cruel to another child, is reflective of your not being able to grasp what salvation is about which is about love and acceptance and kindness.  So they sort of entwine sort of simply but I haven’t found any that are about like a danger of the household that ... because that’s I think too abstract, like falling into a fireplace, it’s not your own choosing.
MC:  Yeah, yeah.
TY:  So basically that’s one of the things, like is the child the agent of the sin or are they just like heedless and innocent and they’re just too young and they happen to fall or they happen to run across the street or are they doing it as an act of wilful disobedience?  So that point you’re actually going to find them and if it’s disobedience there is a section that says and by the way you’re out of God’s sight, he doesn’t love you anymore so.
MC:  Okay, so it connects it back.
TY:  Yeah.
MC:  Okay.  You could talk forever but doesn’t anybody have a quick question?
Attendee:  Could I ask one question?
MC:  Yes?
TY:  Yeah, yeah.
Attendee:  I was just wondering, do you think that this scare tactic with children is more about or partly about reducing the generation to be more malleable, to live out of fear?
TY:  You mean so if they listen to your warnings about scary things they also might be willing ...?
Attendee:  Will they listen to the Government?  Will they listen to ...?
TY:  Yeah, yeah.  I mean that’s a great, great question because, yeah, well any book for children that’s saying ‘Here’s how you should behave’ is sort of testing the waters to say, okay, if you accept these rules for living then you also accept other rules for living you know.  If you think about the example of crossing the street, we all know, are smart enough, not to cross the street when there’s cars coming but if it’s at midnight and the light is red I know people who won’t cross the street, right, because they’ve learnt it as a rule rather than a piece of self preservation.  So yes these books and there’s lots of investigation to be done on these as not just, okay, rules for living but do they have a very long term effect on behaviour modification.  The difficulty is you have to go in to some social science documentation and it’s really difficult to sort of extract from the book because we don’t really know how many copies were produced, how was it distributed, was it actually read very well.  There’s only a few children’s books that we actually understand their impact because they have been studied but kids books don’t get that kind of rigour so we can’t quite actually make the leap from the lesson to an actual proof of what kind of social behaviour happened.
MC:  That’s great.  Yes Julianne quickly yeah?
Attendee:  Just a quick question, I was interested that you said that graphic designers responded to ... is it because of the violence in the images?
TY:  Yes, yes.  Well I did a blog for about 5 years, just interesting objects from the library, and the number one audience were graphic designers because they love to steal an image.  Well actually they write and they say I want to use this because they’re curious because what can happen is I can have 5 pages of it saying ‘Don’t cross the street, do this’ but that one image of like the bloody arm beneath the pile of leaves, that’s just stunning.  Luckily, I actually found out on a blog and I was able to trace back about 10 steps and found the man who actually owns the comic book because I wanted to confirm that it actually existed because sometimes people make things up.  But yeah so graphic designers are just interested in anything at all that would just have an immediate response so.
MC:  I could talk for hours tonight about this and particularly the readers, how readers respond to these texts along the way.  But we’re going to have to wrap it up there.  But I just want to thank you all for coming along this evening.  Thank you so much for your support.  Thank you to the security staff in Pearse Street Library genuinely for being so generous and thank you to everybody at Pearse Street for helping us organise tonight’s event and thank you one more time to Timothy Young for his wonderful lecture. (Applause)

(Recording ends here)

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